A Look Back At The WildStorms CCG Journey
This article was the winner of our April 2018 writing contest and we are proud to share this introspective about the WildStorms CCG.
Written by Ben Bear
Edited by Drew Bittner
For those that don't know me, I'm from a small (1500 people) rural town in Iowa (corn and pork chops, not potatoes). I caught the comic book bug in 1990, whilst still in high school and began avidly collecting. When Image Comics launched in 1992, I absolutely loved it. The artwork from the Image titles was like nothing I’d seen before. I didn’t really understand anything about the vast improvements they were making to paper stock, coloring, or even the intellectual property rights revolution for creators they were spearheading; I just knew they were producing fantastic looking books. That, plus the fact that I could get in at the ground floor on all those titles; something I couldn’t do with DC and Marvel (exception: Darkhawk rules).
My friend Travis and I would journey 45 minutes to an hour (one-way) each week (depending how impatient we were on that day) to get to a local comic shop (LCS). When I went off to college, I discovered that shockingly, college towns tend to have comic book shops. I first completed a couple years at a community college, with a LCS right there in town, and then transferred to a state university to close out my degree (Iowa State University has a fantastic LCS right across the street from my dorm).
What's your Big Dozer? Or your Black Angel?
The Magic Of CCGs
I only mention those two schools I attended because they both played parts in my Wildstorms CCG journey. While at the community college, I was introduced to Magic: The Gathering (MTG). I learned all about CCG play and collecting in the 3rd and 4th editions of MTG (not to mention Ice Age and Legends). Within a few months though, the reality of being a poor college kid set in and I chose comics over MTG, but I now had a taste of the seductive power of the CCG. (When I dropped MTG, I never looked back.)
Once I transferred to ISU in ‘95, I was in far better financial straits (working concrete construction in the summer pays well) and so when I discovered this card game based on one of the Image studios, I had to try it. I don’t have a particular memory of first finding Wildstorms; I do know that the shop didn’t have a ton of stock of the Limited series, and they couldn’t order any more.
After making a couple of impetuous initial buys to get me started, I went ahead and scooped up what they had left. From there, I dreamt up reasons (for my parents) over breaks to go back to the towns of the old LCS’s I’d frequented and cleaned them out of any stock they had as well. I found both stores did have at least some left over. All told, I ended up with five Limited series chase cards. That’s how I gauged my series collections, by how many chases from the set I had. I thought at the time that I’d done pretty well…
Conflict Brings Conflict
When the Conflict set rapidly followed the Limited series, I added something new to my obsession: proselytization.
I got my roommate and several other friends from the dorms playing/collecting the game. We all started making trips across the street for our fix. We built decks. Seeing each other’s decks in action fueled more trips across the street. After a while, my roommate John and I developed an arms race for deck supremacy. We were buying packs several times a week and constantly retooling our decks. Our zeal pushed the others to the sidelines as they couldn’t keep up with us. In the end, the others dwindled away and John bested me with a magic-based deck. His deck featured characters with high magic stats like Mythos and Necros in addition to some other bruisers. He could swap the magic stat around to whatever he needed and I could not swing a team deck that could defeat his hodgepodge magic deck. John had never read any of the comics, so breaking teams was no big deal him, but truly abhorrent to my sensibilities (NO! Black Hammers, Timespan, Rhiannon & Necros should never be teamed together, and they should not be able to consistently mop up the floor with the WildCATs).
I was frustrated. This carried on through the end of the semester. He’d play other decks, but I never beat that magic deck consistently, especially not with my go-to WildCATs deck. Not that it still bothers me or anything…
I continued picking up Conflict packs until the shop could no longer get them. The Conflict chase count was four, though I think I may have traded away a couple of the photo chases as I just didn’t think they fit the game.
Into The Universe
When the Image Universe (IU) set came out, John and I weren’t playing nearly as much, but the chase renewed. For the most part John and I would provide others with decks, as no one could match us card-wise. Interestingly, looking back, we stopped building new team decks in the IU days. We might drop Supreme or Savage Dragon into a deck, but we never built any Vicious Circle, Youngblood, or Cyberforce decks. I did try to build a Fantastic Four/Iron Man & Hulk deck, but always found that I needed to augment them with another team. The augmenting team, whatever it was, tended to take over, so I dropped the idea.
Also by this point, John and I had realized that if we wanted to keep being roommates, we had to be more collegial in our play. The actual play dwindled to more of a collecting bent as time passed. (Though he did try dropping Supreme into his magic deck, because, you know, that’s what it really needed was more twink.)
Across the street, knowing they had addicts a stone’s throw away, my local shop bought notably more stock, and I continued to make additional trips across the street, though not with the Conflict-level fervor.
IU chase count was 30. I had at least one of every chase card, and up to three of some.
When the Unlimited series hit, I ardently went after all the cards I’d missed in the limited set, though the excitement wasn’t as intense as there weren’t any new surprises to be found. No new mechanics, no new combos.
Not having the comics tether to the game, John’s interest waned and he became an occasional collector as well. This time frame was the last time I played the game against actual opponents.
Once the Unlimited set became scarce there in town, I repeated the trips back to my previous shops to track down all I could. When it was all said and done, though I had over 40 chase cards, there was still one I didn’t have (across Limited and Unlimited): Big Dozer. In addition, there was a rare I somehow didn’t possess in either set as well: Total Cover.
Being a big Wetworks fan, not getting Big Dozer drove me up the wall! John had pulled the only copy we’d seen and he didn’t want trade it (couldn’t blame him on that).
By the summer of ‘97, John was completely checked out of the game; so, fittingly for a solo edition, I collected alone. I must admit, by this point, my collector mentality had emerged. I played the solo game for a while, but found myself using similar strategies and the games started to feel the same. Before long, I bought the cards to collect, not really to play. In addition, the Best Of set came out shortly on the heels of Legends, so I switched gears to grab them up before ensuring I had everything in Legends.
One cool thing in the Legends set’s favor was that it contained updated versions of several characters like Maul and Dane. Better representations of their abilities and new art to boot. Still…the game of one is lonely…
No chase cards in Legends translates to zero chase cards, but I was short five rares in the set. Still no Big Dozer.
Best Of The Rest
The Best Of WildStorms (BOW) set definitely competed with Legends for my attention. I jumped in and found that there were no classes. All cards are created equal. That was handy! I finally got my long-sought-after Full Cover (it seemed like forever, but in actuality, it wasn’t that long)! I also got more Black Hammers. Enough to field 4 of those damn things if I so chose to ever build an IO deck…
Sadly, there was no Big Dozer reprint. My other long-sought after white rabbit (even though he’s actually liquid golden colored and a big as a house…but that’s neither here nor there).
I quickly lost steam with BOW because, well, because I got them all, relatively easily over a month or two of steady Wednesday purchases. Upon realizing that, I turned my attention back to Legends, but the Legends spigot had dried up far more rapidly than before. My shop didn’t stock as many as they knew the demand was down. Even the old shops either didn’t have it or only had a few.
BOW had no chase, so it was never much of one, but I had them all. Still no Big Dozer.
My Kingdom For A Promo
You may have noticed in all this rambling that I’m not mentioning promo cards. The simple explanation is that I never saw any. My shops never had any, and although I’d seen mention of them in places, I never had an opportunity to pursue them. I had come across the Conflict hot packs, which were packed in IU boxes (I had three), but that was it for promos.
In the remote wilderness of Iowa, we didn’t have conventions. Remember, this was 20 years ago: no cons, no Internet.
BTW – now we have cons. Pretty good cons. We have Internet too, in case you were wondering…we participated in its invention (ISU)…not Al Gore. You can look that up.
From there, the game went cold. I’d graduated and moved on to another city. The shop across the street actually followed me and opened a second shop in Des Moines (now the preeminent LCS in the state), so I kept my connection there, but I migrated to other CCGs and board games: Star Wars Young Jedi full-on, dabbled with the Babylon 5 CCG, went all-out for Anachronism (a fantastic historical game of mini-starter packs essentially), and very much whole-hog on the WWE’s Raw Deal CCG (I had a crew of friends and a local league to play in for Raw Deal, so I stayed with that for several years).
I also branched out into board games and have a respectable collection of them (170+). In particular, I found the deck-building games to be particularly fun. Games like Dominion, Thunderstone, Ascension and the like. They scratched that deck-building itch without gouging that wallet.
With the rapid proliferation of this thing called the Internet happening shortly thereafter, I would occasionally look online for places selling or trading cards, but rarely seemed to have much luck.
At one point, probably around the late Oughts (is that actually a thing?) or early teens, I found a message board with a couple people trading cards and found someone willing to trade me a Big Dozer. Awesome!
By that time I’d become aware that there were also promo cards bouncing around out there too. I’d never seen one in person. In that aforementioned “Big” trade, I also acquired a Savage Warblade, which I’d seen online, and two cards I’d never even heard of before: Hazard and Dusty, though I was familiar with the characters. I did spend my dupe Savage Hulk in the trade, but it was nothing as I was FINALLY getting my Big Dozer. The trade went off without a hitch and I was on cloud nine. BIG frickin’ DOZER! And a cool upgrade to Warblade, too. It truly was awesome. My wife thought I was an idiot (I’d gotten married by that point). Even though I was elated to finally have my one missing piece, there wasn’t really anyone to celebrate it with…
Rebirth (No not the DC one)
Fast forward a few more years to end of last year (2017). I’m doing a random search on Google for WildStorm.
Hey, there’s a site. Like a site actually dedicated to WildStorms CCG! Not some back-handed mention on a larger site that’s full of broken links (argh). This site has complete lists of all the expansions, and even pictures of most everything. It even details the promos.
That’s awesome! Or is it? $#!+, there’s a Limited/Unlimited card I don’t have (Black Angel). There’s quite a few cards I don’t have.
What’s more, there’s a group on Facebook about this stuff. I joined up and am happy to report that they’re all obsessed like me (in the good way).
This group likes to trade. I worked out a trade for a Black Angel (and both a Limited and Unlimited Full Cover), so I’m at least mostly complete again, and I’m back in the hunt for true completion. If you’re reading this and you haven’t joined the Facebook group…do it. I didn’t write this article with a recruitment angle in mind, but it actually just came out that way.
What’s your Big Dozer? Or your Black Angel?
Celebrate your wins with us. I love hearing about great scores that people find. I love it when someone from our group wins a bid on eBay. It’s a win for all of us.
Or, if you have a collection and want to see it go to a good home, this is the place. (I sold my entire WWE Raw Deal collection in one shot when the opportunity arose. I greatly enjoyed the game, but didn't love it like I do this game. Everyone has priorities.)
By the way, you may have noticed in this farcical CCG odyssey, that there’s no mentions of eBay in this story. Yeah, I have a somewhat addictive personality. I avoid drugs and alcohol. eBay seems like it would it would be something that’s maybe less than healthy for me. I like trading anyway. Buying coldly reminds me that I’m an addict (I’ve done it, absolutely no judgements from me for those that do), but trading is like sharing among new friends. I like that better (as long as you don’t trade like $#!+ and try to screw people over…don't trade like a $#!+.)
Postscript: Writing this piece spurred me to send John a message and see if still had his cards and would be interested in joining the group. We exchanged pleasantries and he politely said he’d just mail his cards to me. I offered to pay him for them, or at least cover the shipping cost. He said he’d take the shipping but just wanted to give them to me. He’s such a $#!+. Now I owe him. Even now he wins. To the last, I will grapple with thee...from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!
Post Postscript: He didn't even let me pay for postage. JOHHHHHHNNNNNNNNN! (camera pulls back and zooms out to space.) Yes, yes, I know, I'm quoting both Kirk AND Khan in the same story...if you don't like it, write your own.