So it’s been awhile since I’ve published anything. Unfortunately my time lately has been sapped by work/life stuff, the acquisition of a Nintendo Switch (which is awesome), scrapped articles for this blog, and other reasons. I’m hoping to fire things back up; I’ve started drafting a “Wrap-up” for The Forgotten Age cycle (including updates to its statistics, and my thoughts on the current “best” solo investigators), a “game concepts resource” of sorts, and various updates to the blog (including the buying guide) so keep your eyes peeled. However, because it’s always easier to do anything but what you should be doing, I wanted to quickly draft up an article on one of my new favourite (but often maligned) cards: Shards of the Void(3).
Ever since this card was previewed it has been the subject of vehement criticism by various circles of the community. It’s been called unplayable, a waste of a card slot, inefficient, un-optimal, and detrimental. After playing with it I couldn’t disagree with that verdict more; while it may not be an “auto-include” or the generally powerful Spell we want, I think it does have an excellent place in the game. For good measure, I will also provide a mostly offense Jim Culver deck where I’ve been putting it to good use. I will get to all of that shortly, but before I do that I think I need to address the card(s) that Shards of the Void(3) is always compared to: Shrivelling(5) (and to a lesser extent, the level 3 version).
The Forgotten Downside: Shrivelling(5)
A common criticism of Shards of the Void(3) is why take it when Shrivelling(5) (and the level 3 version ) exist? After all, these are Spells with the same cost, almost the same number of charges, works with Arcane Research, but without the conditional damage and willpower boost. I think those criticisms overlook an important aspect of Shrivelling(5) (and 3), one that seems to be forgotten or at least taken for granted (including by me). If we are going to compare it to Shards of the Void(3), however, then we need to rein in our perceptions and bring Shrivelling(5) back to earth. I think once we take a hard look at the cards, we can see that the difference in power level isn’t so wide.
When Shrivelling(5) was released back in Lost in Time and Space during The Dunwich Legacy cycle it quickly solidified Agnes Baker as one of the premier monster killers in the game. People likened it to the Mystic Lightning Gun(5), a potent offensive “weapon” that dealt +2 damage and a skill boost on top of it. Yet, that overlooks a critical component of the card: when you reveal a bad stuff token, you must take TWO horror. Statistically speaking, that means roughly 33% of the time you will take horror, and over the course of Shrivelling(5)‘s 4 charges you are likely to take at least 2-4 horror. This horror cannot be stopped with the likes of Defiance(0-2) and Counterspell(2). Despite how strong the cards offensive abilities may be, that’s a significant downside that cannot be ignored.
Of course, people (usually) don’t ignore that downside; they pack their decks with the likes of Grotesque Statue(4), Fearless(2), Peter Sylvester(2), and other soaks and heals to deal with that downside; they may even ask a fellow player to use Carolyn Fern. However, this means Shrivelling(5) has a hidden cost: you are now dedicating a significant portion of your deck (and experience) to offset the downside of a single card. Sure, all of these cards provide additional benefits, but they are included first and foremost to offset Shrivelling(5), and their utility is often limited outside of Shrivelling(5). But-for Shrivelling(5), our deck could (and probably would) look very differently. This is not to say Shrivelling(5) is a bad card, far from it, however it’s also not the unequivocally good card that it is sometimes labelled as. We must recognize that Shrivelling(5) has a significant downside that necessarily leeches into the rest of our deck. In short, if Shrivelling(5) is an “optimal” card, then we have to recognize that you must make the rest of your deck “less optimal” to use it.
Additionally, while you can technically use Arcane Research to accelerate your acquisition of Shrivelling(3-5), recall its own downside: mental trauma. This combo accelerates the risk that Shrivelling(5) places you in, which necessitates even more mitigation lest you fall into a mental trauma spiral.
Shards of the Void(3)
Alright, now that I’ve given Shrivelling(5) a work over, let’s move onto Shards of the Void(3). Let’s take a closer look at what it does:
- You must seal a “0” token (not merely a 0 value token), and you get 3 charges
- To Fight, you must spend a charge or unseal one token on Shards.
- The Fight action uses willpower and deals +1 damage (2 damage total)
- The Fight action gains +2 willpower and deals +1 damage for each “0” token revealed
- Any revealed “0” tokens are Sealed on Shards.
Let’s break this down further:
The Cost (or lack thereof) of Seal
People understandably are wary of sealing a “good” token like a “0”; if you’re sitting on a “0” for several rounds while the rest of the group is trying to investigate, they may leer at your Shards of the Void(3) and demand you Sacrifice(1) it. However, as discussed in my look at Crystalline Elder Sign(3) the actual cost isn’t as bad as our brains may think. Let’s say our base chaos bag is 10 successful tokens out of 16 total tokens in the chaos bag. If we seal a “pass” (ie the “0”), this is reduced to 9 successful tokens out of 15. The difference? About 2.50% (60.0% from 62.5%). Let’s say we now have 18 total tokens in the chaos bag, with our number of successful tokens remaining the same (10). The difference? About 2.57% (52.94% from 55.55%). Yes, the difference in sealing a “0” is less than converting a “fail” token into a “success” (eg 10/16 into 11/16). Your mileage may very, but I don’t think anyone should be fretting over 2.5%.
If the team is fretting though, then you need only Seal a “fail” token to compensate (for example, via The Chthonian Stone). Let’s illustrate this with the below and recap the above:
- Base odds: 10/16 (62.5%)
- “0” sealed: 9/15 (60.0%)
- “0” and a “fail” token sealed: 9/14 (64.28%)
The Elongated Spell
In any event, the rest of the players shouldn’t have to put up with 2.5% decrease for long. You should be spending those “0” tokens quickly and liberally unless you need a guaranteed +2 damage result. This leads me to two positives of Shards of the Void(3). First, like most offensive Spells, it has a minimum life span of 4 uses; unlike other offensive Spells, Shards of the Void(3) has an in-built mechanic to extend its natural life span. By revealing a “0” token, you effectively gained an additional charge/use. Cards like Olive McBride (who you would be literally insane to use with Shrivelling(5)) can assist in that regard, however it also means you should be unsealing your “0” tokens often to get the best chance of gaining multiple uses out of Shards of the Void(3). It’s not unrealistic to get 5-6 total uses out of a single copy of the card; no Recharge(2) or Enraptured required.
Depending on how you look at it, Shards of the Void’s(3) damage is either a gift or a curse. On one hand, it means the additional damage is unpredictable. On the other hand, it’s unpredictable damage gives us the aforementioned extended lifespan. Taken together however, and what we have is control. Shards of the Void(3) gives us some measure of control over its damage. Don’t need the extra damage and willpower? Toss the token and hope you fish it back out. Need it? Then hang onto the sealed “0”, or take a gamble and hope Olive McBride finds it.
A Comparable Cost
Shards of the Void(3) costs 3XP which is nothing to sneeze at but I do not think that cost is unreasonable. Its direct competitor is Shriveling(3) which also deals +1 damage and an unconditional +2 willpower, a bit of course with a 33%-ish chance to inflict 1 horror; using Arcane Research to accelerate access to it would not be too risky, either. However, that is also in par with what Shards of the Void(3) offers; the same amount of uses, the same damage, with a less consistent willpower boost but with conditional extra damage and extended use… with the only downside being temporary Sealing. That actually feels pretty balanced. For investigators who do not need the guaranteed +2 willpower, Shards of the Void(3) is actually superior as a splash option.
The Sum of its Parts (aka are you an Optimus Prime or a Voltron?)
There are two ways to approach a deck (okay there are multiple ways, but stick with me before my analogy falls apart even more). I’ll call them the Optimus Prime and Voltron approaches (Constructicons are also cool I guess). The Optimus Prime deck has two distinct features: (1) there are dominant cards and servient cards, and (2) it is innately powerful but must be built around mitigating its downside; everything must flow through the dominant cards, much like how the Auto-Bots are a sideshow so Optimus can wail on Megatron. A Voltron deck is quite different, and has three distinctive elements (1) all cards work well independently, (2) each card benefits each other as they are brought into play, and (3) the cards work to maximize their upside, much like how Voltron is made up of 5 mechanical cats/lions that merge together to become a super powerful mecha-warrior.
A Shrivelling(5) deck is an Optimus Prime. As powerful as the card may be, everything must flow through Shrivelling(5) to prevent it from driving yourself insane. For example, Peter Sylvestre(2) of course helps your Shrivelling(5) skill tests, but the real reason you have him around is to absorb accidental horror. He is therefore servient to the dominant Shrivelling(5). He offers some utility outside of Shrivelling(5), however there are other means to effect the same.
Shards of the Void(3) is a Voltron deck that fits within the chaos bag manipulation and control archetype that has developed over The Forgotten Age. This deck utilizes cards like The Chthonian Stone, Premonition, Olive McBride, Recall the Future(2), among older cards like Time Warp(2), Spirit Athame(1), and even Song of the Dead(2) to get the most mileage out of. The great part about this archetype is that each card is independently powerful that scales upward with every additional component (except, perhaps, Olive McBride); no card is dominant or servient, rather the cards work together to enhance the sum that is the deck.
I don’t think either approach (or card) is superior, it is even questionable whether either can be considered the “optimal choice for power gaming”; optimized play requires thinking about the underlying mechanics and costs of the deck, and there is more than meets the eye with both. That sort of analysis is part of the joy of deck building. There is also something to be said that this is a game that is supposed to be fun; if you get bored of “power gaming” with mind killer Agnes Baker builds I recommend giving Shards of the Void(3) a look, you may just be surprised.
Shards in Action: Jim Culver’s Face Melting sAxe Solo
Want to put Shards of the Void(3) into action? Then give this Jim Culver deck (Face Melting sAxe Solo) a shot. The arkhamdb deck description should tell you all you need to know about the deck, but the basic idea is to make an offensive oriented Mystic deck that doesn’t use Shrivelling(3-5). Jim was the perfect investigator for this because he can get more mileage out of Song of the Dead(2) (which, like Shards, combo’s well with Olive McBride). For 10XP, you get 4x Fight Spells that each conditionally deal +2 damage; take that 2x Shrivelling(5)!