Lightning Epic Variant

Only read the bullet-point lists if you just came here for the rules themselves. My ramblings are not necessary but provide some insights.

Epic Card Game is a pretty wonderful game and has proven that it’s willing to change over time. But one of the things it seems to encourage pretty heavily is extra variants. They add a lot of replay value to the game while we wait for additional sets. Lightning Epic is a variant that came about by pure accident. Back when I first obtained my original copy of base set in 2015 and read the terrible rulebook, we were pretty confused on many of the rules. Thus, it led us to playing several rules slightly incorrectly for some time. The game seemed to be charged with lightning and amazingly deadly—packed with strategy. When we finally learned the real rules about 10 games later, Epic flopped around like a cold, dead fish. See, the problem was that Epic always favors the defender, by allowing them the last word on practically everything. If you play a card and attack, the defender can respond. If they block and you play a card, they can respond. If they pass and you play a card, they can respond. No matter how you try to wiggle in some extra aggro, the defender can always play the control game perfectly.

Lightning Epic changes this. After playing Epic for two solid years with several hundred games under my belt, I’m confident in saying this is my absolute favorite variant of the rules. Only a few changes were made to the core of the game, most of them extremely play tested for compatibility and balance. After seeing the damage that stalling forever until you win is doing to this game, I think Lightning Epic is needed now more than ever. Let’s eliminate the slog!

Philosophy and Rules Changes

The changes in Lightning Epic are geared toward favoring an aggressive strategy. Not to the exclusion of all other things, however. In the official rules, healing or stalling repeatedly until you grind out a win (or worse, just drop Kark) is vastly overrepresented due to how powerful and safe the strategy is. This strategy is naturally favored by the rules in which defenders always get to act last. Thus, to fix this control favoritism, the following changes are made:

Mulligan Change

  • As per April 2017 changes: Second player mulligans first. See those changes to the official rules. However, we’ve always played with this rule.
  • Mulligans do not cause health loss.

The life loss during mulligan is like punishing you for being unlucky. Keep a bad hand? Damned. Mulligan the bad parts away? Damned. So damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In the literally hundreds of games of Epic we’ve played, the health loss rule adds absolutely zero to the game. It doesn’t stop players from making terrible decks (nor help players who construct them well). It doesn’t feel fun to win by a 4 health margin because your opponent was guaranteed to lose with a hand of all silvers. It feels even less fun to be the person to make that awful choice. Absolutely nothing about this is fun, strategic, nor fosters a sense of fairness. It’s actually just one extra instance for randomness to do it’s dirty evil work. Eliminating this rule has livened games up quite a bit and made the single partial mulligan feel significantly less critical.

First Player Draws

  • On the first turn, the player draws a card during their draw phase.

Eliminating the punishment for going first was a long-standing project of mine ever since my first game of Epic. It was immediately obvious that spending gold last is almost always better, thus going first is actually a penalty in and of itself. When controlling for skill over dozens of games, we noticed the player who went first had a hell of a handicap to overcome relative to the second player. At first, we tried the simple fix above but it felt “dirty” to just blatantly ignore a rule that must have been put in there with careful consideration. After doing some hard testing for two years now, I can safely say that this is a complete red herring. The first player already has a huge disadvantage (unless they run low OPP, but that’s for another time), no need to make it worse. By changing the mulligan order and allowing them to draw, the first player now has a roughly equal chance at victory when all things are equal.

Battle Phase Changes

Before the blocking step:

  1. Attacker makes any number of plays, then initiative naturally passes
  2. Any player receiving initiative may immediately move to the blockers step, cutting off further plays (after step 1)
  3. Repeat until a player makes zero plays but passes initiative—that player is now unable to make further plays during the same step

This is pretty in-line with the April 2017 changes except that when you deliberately do nothing except pass, you give up your right to play during future cycles of that step. You can never have initiative again until the next battle step.

After blockers:

  1. The defender makes any number of plays, then initiative naturally passes
  2. Any player receiving initiative may immediately move to the damage step, cutting off further plays (after step 1)
  3. Repeat until a player makes zero plays but passes initiative—that player is now unable to make further plays during the same step

Same as above, except the defender starts instead of the attacker. This gives the attacker a distinct advantage in that they can now wait until the defender passes to play a buff. Defenders: if you want to use removal, you better act fast! It’s not called “Lightning Epic” sarcastically.

End of Main Phase Changes

  1. When a player attempts to end their turn, initiative passes to the opponent
  2. Whomever has initiative then may make any number of plays and then initiative passes naturally
  3. If the turn player has initiative, they may choose to proceed to the end phase at this point, or play cards and then proceed to the end phase

This is a pretty major change that forces the end phase after the opponent has gotten a single shot at doing whatever they want. Unlike the battle changes, this doesn’t have a “back and forth” still present as long as plays continue to get made. Instead, it’s a “one and done” for the opposing player.

When should you use Lightning Epic?

Personally, I think Lightning Epic is the best way to introduce the game to new players, but that’s just me. It’s far simpler than the official version, faster, more satisfying to newbies, and forces very fast strategic adaptation. However, many people will be purists so you should let them know that these rules aren’t official and they will have to learn the real deal before they go play in public.

My official recommendation is to play Lightning Epic if you’re tired of the heavy defender advantage that I claim the game has. White Wizard Games appears to be slightly aware of this and has already taken a few steps to improve the game. For now, Lightning Epic will be my preferred way to play. Lastly, there’s always the “just because you can” reason.

Leave a comment below with feedback on how your game of Lightning Epic went. I plan to incorporate any constructive feedback into the rules in the future.

Alice White

Alice is the webmaster of VMundi, author, and editor. She has over 11 years of publishing experience writing articles for various self-run sites. Her interests include game design, writing romance fiction, economics, Game Theory, graphical design, and mathematics.

  • reply Konan ,

    Really interesting take on the rules – cool that the offical rules came a bit closer to the lightning epic combat rules. I also think the first player is at an disadvantage, most of the games it feels like the first player starts with a card less. I guess I have to try Lightning Epic at some point.

    • Alice

      reply Alice ,

      Let me know how you liked it :D

    • reply ItIsWednesdayMyDudes ,

      I saw you did more customs recently. Are you just doing unofficial Epic play or are you playing/planning to play official Epic? They have the digital available for anyone and it’s really easy and dirt cheap.
      Just wondering, I discovered you from TomS’ blog where he linked you as another resource for this game, and I didn’t see much activity for it for a while.

      • Alice White

        reply Alice White ,

        If we’re talking strictly official with no new cards or rules, I suppose the answer is no I don’t play strict official. I didn’t know until recently that TomS linked here. He probably didn’t realize I quit writing strategy and analysis for Epic some time close to the Uprising World tournament. For now, I just make stuff I like and publish it for all the other Epic fans/players. I do have the digital app but I haven’t logged in since before the Tyrants update.

      • reply Conor ,

        What’s the purpose of making the second player mulligan first, now that taking a mulligan doesn’t make you lose health? In other words, why would the first player want to know whether or not the second player mulliganed before the first player decides whether or not to mulligan themselves?

        • Alice White

          reply Alice White ,

          It is valuable to know how many cards your opponent wants to throw away before you play your first turn regardless of life loss.

        • reply Dream ,

          Maybe a stupid question but am not startet playing Epic yet. Is it possible to play your created card set (really pretty asome) without the Epic itself? Or do i need the base game? I watched a few videos for the rules and there a quite confusing me. So your rules seem easier for me. Thanks

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