Hey there and welcome to another Obscure Studies article. Today we have a very controversial title and I expect many of you are either reading this to find my flawed logic and shove it back in my face or to validate your own point of view on what is a at the very least a somewhat contested card. Hopefully, you’ll see that my headline was mostly hyperbolic and more so a spoiler to what my final conclusion on this card will be. Stick with me while I talk about the cons, and I guess pros as well to one of the most
Versatile is the third non-signature neutral permanent introduced, appearing in the Dream Eaters expansion. At the point of the game this card was released, we had seen a huge and powerful card pool. The cycle before this saw the release of cards like Mr. “Rook”, Drawing Thin and Deny Existence while the Dream Eaters followed up with even more amazing cards like Astounding Revelation, Practice Makes Perfect and Crystallizer of Dreams. This context will be important for some of my upcoming posts, so if you’re relatively now to the game or you don’t own these later campaign, I recommend heading over to ArkhamDB to take a look. With all that, let’s get started!
The real cost of power
I want to start off by talking about something that most people overlook or consider a benefit to Versatile that I see as a huge downside. I’m referring to its second line of text, “you get +5 deck size.” I know that for a lot of people, cutting cards from their deck is a usually a very difficult decision and a lot of times you wind up missing that one card you decided to cut at one point or another. At the same time, I think it’s known for a lot of competitive card gamers out there that smaller decks lead to more consistency. Since Arkham Horror is a cooperative game where the main objective of defeating the mythos oftentimes crosses with the objective of creating a fun game for all players, this concept of consistency becomes a bit muddled. Still, I think for a game as challenging as this one, it’s still important to maintain consistency. We can see this because cards like Stick to the Plan and Studious are generally amazing no matter what deck you put them in due to the consistency the add to the start of your game. The additional deck size on Versatile does the opposite, dilutes your deck and makes finding that one specific card (your Guardian weapon or level 5 Mystic spell) that much harder to find.
If you’ll permit me to talk about some numbers for a second, we can see the effects of a larger deck size. For example, the chances of drawing a two-of card in your opening hand goes from 30.1% to 26.2% with one versatile. With two, this chance goes to 23.2%. While this can seem small, it can be very impactful especially for cards you need in your opening hand such as the tarot cards. If you’re hard mulliganing for these cards, you’ll go from 54.8% to 48.4% with five extra cards and 43.3% with the ten extra cards. A similar effect happens with cards like Practice Makes Perfect and Prepared for the Worst, where a smaller chance for success can mean the loss of a card and possibly even an action. It’s definitely important to consider how impacted your deck will be with a larger deck size. Overall, I think this is probably a very low cost to get the additional off-class card, but it’s one that not many people consider.
We actually have a few examples of a higher deck size being used as a deterrent for some powerful abilities. As pictured above, Mandy Thompson can double or triple the amount of signature events in her deck, but at the cost of +10 deck size for each, double what Versatile “costs”. We can also see this with Patrice Hathaway who draws up to five cards on every turn. Normally this would mean she could cycle through her deck around every 6 or 7 turns, seeing every card pretty quickly. The appropriately nerdy 42 card deck keeps this in check somewhat, with Patrice cycling through her deck around. Lastly, we can also see Sefina Rousseau have an interestingly symmetrical deck size of 33. This is probably due to her 13 card starting hand, which is exactly 3 more than the 10 cards you can see by mulliganing your entire starting hand.
Class identity theft is a serious crime
Since we talked about numbers, I feel like it’s only natural that I talk about the design perspective of the card. Classes in Arkham Horror, like factions or colors in other games represent specific philosophies and abilities that can only be achieved in that class. In games like Magic: The Gathering, access to colors is unlimited but not to the resources to cast them (mana). If you want to play cards of all different colors, your deck will probably be inconsistent since your resources and cards might not line up. In other games, like Hearthstone, The Game of Thrones LCG and The Lord of the Rings LCG, your class/faction/sphere determines what cards you can even put in your deck. This is the same in Arkham, except for this one card, which muddles a bit the idea that survivor cards will only ever be used by investigators who have survivor access, etc.
It might seem interesting coming from me, who just did a big series on all the different deck building styles and how some of my favorite investigators could take cards from multiple classes. I think it’s important to differentiate a little between class identity and investigator identity. If we look at the 5-2 split investigators, we can see how each of these character fits into their secondary role. In fact, you could even play that investigator purely as their secondary role if you wanted to. Shoutout to Peredur who does this kind of experiment over on his podcast. In any case, despite individual characters having the ability to go outside of their main class, Versatile goes one step further allowing any character to go even beyond their own designated classes leading to potentially unintended interactions with investigators who theoretically never would have gotten to play a certain card. So what can this design break cause in the worst case?
The last point I want to mention is an even more controversial topic in Arkham Horror, a cooperative, oftentimes brutally difficult game: power level balance. I know many people shy away from discussion on this and hate the idea of the taboo list. I think that’s fine, you need to play this game however is most fun for you. On the other hand, there are people who seek further challenge in this game and they have fun in a more limited environment set out by the designers of this great game. I’ve had those moments myself, most recently in a very powerful Amanda build which led me to invalidate all my teammates’ clue gathering abilities (more on that deck and Amanda as a whole in a future article). My point is that for such an open-ended card like Versatile, we need to think about balance. Any investigator can take this and add any level 0 card to their deck, or even two for +10 deck size. This can be a very limiting factor on card design since any level 0 card can interact with any investigator ability or signature card.
Just so you don’t think I’m some crazy conspiracy theorist talking about non-existent combos that don’t exist, I want to touch on the most talked about example of a non-intended interaction brought about by Versatile. I’m referring to Premonition combined with Wendy’s Amulet. For those who aren’t familiar, the amulet’s forced ability doesn’t work with Premonition because the event doesn’t immediately go to the discard pile. The end result is Premonition winding back up on top of the discard pile, which means it can be replayed over and over again. This means that with both cards, you can know every single token pull for the rest of the game, not only for Wendy, but for the whole group. It’s not that hard to see why this can trivialize a game and why most who know about it people don’t even attempt to recreate this combo. I currently don’t know about any other completely game-breaking combos, but there are a few cards that I often seen taken with Versatile due to sheer power. Mr. “Rook” (before his taboo), Crystallizer of Dreams and Astounding Revelation combined with Stick to the Plan are a few examples of this.
As a last point, I want to mention a group of investigators that I wrote an article on not too long ago and in that article I mentioned Versatile. The Dunwich investigators have access to five level 0 cards of any other class which is basically like five free Versatile’s right? Well, not really. Your ability to take those five cards is strongly tied to the investigators in that cycle. It’s not Wendy or Patrice getting the cards, Ashcan is the only Survivor that can do so. This is very different from Versatile itself because the power level balance is baked in to the ability on each of the Dunwich investigators. This calls back a little to my point on investigator identity vs class identity and for the Dunwich 5, part of their investigator identity is to have access to a wider range of cards at level 0, at the cost of not having access to any higher level off-class cards.
Why I Like Versatile
I understand that I’ve been pretty critical on a card that I’m sure many of you enjoy playing a lot. I want to say that despite all my complaints, I think Versatile can be very fun without being game breaking or causing any consistency issues. Most recently, I planned out a fighting-focused Amanda Sharpe that started off without any weapons or combat skills and my plan was to add them later in a campaign after upgrading into Strange Solution (Acidic Ichor) or Timeworn Brand along with the amazing Daring. I very much enjoy this function of Versatile, as a pseudo-Adaptable with the extra bonus of an off-class level 0 card. There isn’t much I can say to defend this card that isn’t tied to specific gameplay moments, so I’d definitely be interested in hearing your fun Versatile moments if you have them!
Despite speaking out about using Versatile to add generically powerful off-class cards, I do think a lot of them can be great fun in other classes. In a recent playthrough, someone in my group took Crystallizer of Dreams in a Nathaniel Cho. This combination seemed very fun to me and I’ve even seen talk of some very interesting combos with Crystallizer and Grisly Totem (3) to redraw previously played events. Overall, opening up particular cards to other investigators can be very fun and I think the design team has done a mostly great job at limiting the possible interactions while keeping the level 0 card pool and investigator abilities fresh and interesting.
That’s all I have on Versatile for you today. Hopefully I wasn’t too harsh on this card and I do want to reinforce that if you like it, I want you to keep playing it! Arkham Horror is all about harvesting the tools you have at your disposal to fight off the Mythos and having fun while doing it. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to comment down below or reach out to me on Facebook, Discord or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!