Shadowfist Critical Shift Expansion

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Home > Sets > Critical Shift
[posted 10 Dec 2004; updated 13 Feb 2010]

What's in the set? - rarity, distribution by faction, and obligatory statistics
Nitpicker's Guide - errors big, small, and ludicrously small
Storyline summary - the story behind this set, summarized in a couple of paragraphs
Card list - opens in new window
Etc - whatever's left, random thoughts and comments, sometimes my opinions on this set or cards in it, and/or the State of Shadowfist at the time of this expansion

What's in Critical Shift?

Shadowfist Seven Masters vs The Underworld booster display boxCritical Shift is a booster-only expansion set released by Shadowfist Games at GenCon in August 2007. It's a 128 card set that contains 125 new cards, with rarities divided into Common, Uncommon, and Rare. Two cards are errata of Daedalus cards (Bull Market and Shadowy Mentor), and one is a reprint of Mars Colonist. All cards are black bordered with a red, yellow and black 'morphing person' Critical Shift badge in the upper right corner. This is the first use of a multicolor set badge. The other portion of the badge is still coded to indicate rarity: white for rare, grey for uncommon, and black for common. Still not foil.

The set as originally announced by Z-Man Games in 2004 was to be a new core set, including starters and boosters, but that approach was canceled when Z-Man gave up control of Shadowfist. The new publishing team, Shadowfist Games, announced in Oct.2006 that the set instead would be a typical 128 card booster-only expansion set.

Shadowfist Seven Masters vs The Underworld booster packBooster packs contain 10 randomly assorted cards; each display box contains 24 boosters. The wrappers use the same waxy paper as the recent sets, and are in full color like Red Wedding's wrappers. Two boxes will give you enough rares to finish the set (after a couple of trades) unless you are very unlucky with duplicates.

This set introduces The Syndicate's signature ability, Influence. It also adds yet another alternate victory condition card: Project Apocalypse. And you might imagine that the set would focus on building up The Syndicate card pool, but all factions get about equal number of cards in this set.

Critical Shift



















The secret booster wrapper message appears on the outside under the sealing flap:
This is where the shift hits the fan... We're really in deep shift now... Holy Shift... I got a million of 'em! Good Night everybody, try the veal and don't forget to tip your waiter!

Rules from the bottom of the Critical Shift boxThere was no secret box message. Instead, the bottom of the box contains a mini-FAQ, introducing the rules for Influence and answering questions about a few cards - the largest portion of the mini-FAQ is devoted to questions about the new version of Zheng Yi Quan. Click the image to the right to see a larger (readable :) version in a new window.

Here's the breakdown by faction and by card type. The table on the left shows the overall breakdown (for new players), the table on the right shows the breakdown of the new cards only (for not new players). Apologies for the formatting of the table, but it's much smaller to plop an image in than write a table in HTML. Eventually I'll try out the CSS thing and redo all my tables...

Shadowfist Critical Shift breakdown by faction and type, including errata and reprints   Shadowfist Critical Shift breakdown by faction and type, excluding errata and reprints

Looking at this graphically may or may not help you, but I like it. Click either graph to see a larger version in a new window. These plots include errata and reprints.

Shadowfist Critical Shift breakdown by factionShadowfist Critical Shift breakdown by card type

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The Nitpicker's Guide: Critical Shift

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Storyline Summary: Critical Shift

In 2005, David Eber let me know that the Critical Shift story isn't going to be one continuous plot, but rather a series of vignettes to give everyone a good idea what the future is like, after the Dragons caused a Critical Shift in the Pulp juncture (the Two-Fisted Tales set). But I don't know if the final story will have anything to do with this, since David is not working with the new publishing company, Shadowfist Games. The best printed summary I have found is from the back of the booster packs:

The Dragons are mired in a seemingly unwinnable war with Johann Bonengel. The Jammers loyal to the Battlechimp face off against Silverback and those who believe the fight is finished. The Syndicate are desperately trying to get a hold on the Secret War as Boatman's abominations run amok, the Reascended are claiming ground, and the Fire King has his eye on the secrets of the new future. As if that weren't enough, the Lodge - broken, battered and cast out of the modern juncture - has lost the power to keep the Netherworld from spilling out into the streets. The Secret War is spinning out of control, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

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Etc: Critical Shift

Critical Shift took a lot of twists and turns over several years to finally get to print. I understand the financial decision to publish Critical Shift as a booster set, but I think the lack of starters is going to push new players to other games. Imagine trying a demo and really liking the game, then finding that you either have to run across old players who will shower you with crappy Limited/Standard castoffs, or you have to invest in an entire box of Critical Shift and hope you get enough cards to build a deck. My guess is that most new players will just walk away at that point. Starters are viewed as loss leaders in this business, but Shadowfist Games is already bypassing traditional distribution so why not make non-traditional starters too? No boxing, just a fixed deck wrapped in clear plastic that can be sold from the website directly. They could even leave out the rulebook, although I would at least include a "quick start" booklet or something like that. That's still not cheap, but at least it keeps starters available.

The Syndicate got a couple of good cards, but not enough volume yet to be truly interesting on their own. I like some of the new cards, like Catching Bullets. But Influence as the group's core ability just isn't as impressive as Stealth, let alone Guts, Ambush or Superleap. You need a lot of Influence on the table (which means characters that aren't turning to do anything useful, like attacking) to de-intercept any of the mid to late game thugs that are likely to be in your way. Only 5 cards provide influence; two of those are Unique. The Uniques each provide 4 Influence, enough to skip around CHAR or other mid-range guy, but they both have useful turn-to- abilities already, so you'll have a tough choice.

The errata appearing in this set got a lot of attention. Bull Market, staple of Ascended hijinks for more than 10 years, is now Limited. Benjamin Barnett's deck Tiki God convinced the design team that a "degenerate" Magic:TG style deck was possible in Shadowfist, and Something Must Be Done to stop it. I think Toast It would have more directly addressed the concern about recycling events that generate lots of power (and is probably a pretty good idea in general for power-generating events). But overshadowing (ha!) Bull Market is the change to Shadowy Mentor - the cost has been raised to 4. With all the anti-Mentor cards that have been printed over the years, the combination of higher cost and fragility makes Mentor harder to play with, but certainly not worthless. I hope this means in the future the Ascended will get some alternate power cards, since we can no longer make the blanket argument "They've got Mentor, anything more would push them over the top!".

Zheng Yi Quan is the new winner in the category for most complicated card effect that sounds like it should be simple but isn't really. Was it really necessary to print him like this, knowing in advance that he would confuse people so much that he was given more than 1/2 the FAQ for his pre-rulings? Yes, he is central to the as-yet unwritten fiction, but couldn't he have just stayed in the story and not materialized as a card? Or he could have been printed as a promo, with his card text being "Just read the FAQ" :)

The set is intended to be "draft friendly" because it has roughly equal numbers of cards from all factions, and includes foundation characters. I think it would be even friendlier if there were less factions to split amongst, but that CAT got out of the bag a long time ago with the Purists. The irony of this approach to set design is that draft play is a real sales driver in local shops, but very few local shops actually carry Shadowfist, so what was the point again? To enable play at the couple of conventions where people gather in small groups to play draft?

Shadowfist Games released 9 (!) new promos with this set. Added to the 10 from the last set, they have made about half of all Shadowfist promos in just two sets. They introduced the "case topper" promo with CS, offering the Ting Ting promo only to people who purchased 6 boxes direct from 29 months (!) after release, I still haven't gotten all the promo cards. For me, that is a significant discouraging factor for buying new cards, but I will anyway, so I guess it's not that discouraging.

A "ransom reprint" of Dark Future was printed along with Critical Shift, but didn't sell out like the ransom printing of Red Wedding (unknown if that's due to demand, or just to excess printing). At one time, Dark Future was very hard to get hold of, but eBay prices dropped significantly after the reprint was announced (duh).

Art in this set is not as impressive as the last few. That may just be due to the lack of any Michael Komarck or Roberto Campus pieces :) Newcomer to Shadowfist Eric Williams does some good work here, as do Chris Quilliams and Dan Harding. Dan's work features a lot of CG, which is not traditional for Shadowfist but fits in ok with the cyberpunk theme of the set. At least two of the pieces are leftovers from prior sets - Crane Stance was one of Mark Poole's Man With No Name, and Rogue Shaper was the first (rejected) version of Bandit Chief from Throne War.

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