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I reached ‘Marvel Snap’s’ highest level. Here’s how I did it.

(Alejandro Parrilla for The Washington Post)

“Marvel Snap,” the new mobile card battler from the creators of Blizzard’s “Hearthstone,” is a collectible card game with a twist. Unlike others in its genre, “Snap” entreats players to gauge when they’re ahead or when hope is lost, and then to make a calculated wager — up the ante or admit defeat and retreat. It also lasts only six turns by default, with players controlling decks of just 12 cards. This makes the game short, sweet and near-impossible to put down after only one match.

Without a casual mode, all players must enter the crucible of ranked play against opponents of similar skill. The core mechanic, the titular snap, is central to the game and climbing its competitive ladder from lowly Recruit to the vaunted Infinite, the game’s highest rank. Snapping will determine whether you win or lose two, four, or eight points (or “cubes”) per match, but deeper “Marvel Snap” strategy requires understanding much more than when to raise, call or fold.

Here are the best tips and tricks for climbing the game’s ranks, from someone who’s spent countless hours clawing their way toward — and ultimately reaching — the highest tier.

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Understand the abilities

Abilities are the bedrock of “Marvel Snap,” alongside the energy cost and power of a given card. While the game’s tutorial does walk you through most of these, the sheer volume of different unique abilities and the surprising ways they synergize with each other can only be fully absorbed through many hours of play and trial-and-error. Here’s a primer if you’re just getting started.

Ongoing and On Reveal cards are the most powerful in the game at present; decks built around these abilities have the highest levels of success. Both varieties of cards are adept at multiplying your power across the board, yet some key On Reveal cards like Squirrel Girl and White Tiger also have the benefit of adding more units, a must-have for playing inaccessible locations like Death’s Door and Sanctum Sanctorum.

Play to one of these two ability pools to climb the ladder, or in some cases try a mix of both. For instance, one of my favorite strategies right now is mixing Wong’s Ongoing ability, which doubles On Reveal effects, with cards like Black Panther, Ironheart, and Silver Surfer. Entire decks can be built around such combos.

Destroy and Discard are the other most popular set of abilities. Destroy removes cards off the board, while Discard takes them out of your hand. Both can work well on their own and together (think cards like Gambit and Wolverine). Destroy works best when you have rarer cards like Deadpool, Death, and Venom, while Discard is most viable when you have Dracula and Hela (though Apocalypse is a fantastic card to experiment with).

There are, of course, other strategies and more situational deck builds based around unpredictable card combos. Move decks, for instance, and those designed to amplify lower-cost cards are options here, though they often lean hard on specific cards like Magneto, Cerebro and Mystique to make them viable.

Learn the pillars of smart ‘Marvel Snap’ play

Marvel Snap is a simple game with deep strategy and a fair amount of luck, so it’s best to go into every match understanding how to play smart — even when you’re dealt an unfavorable hand or unfair locations.

Anticipate your opponent. Understanding what kind of deck your opponent is playing as early as possible is key to winning — and also ensuring you can safely snap to gamble more cubes. Sometimes this is easy; if your opponent plays Nova and then Bucky Barnes, you’re dealing with a Destroy deck.

Other times it’s harder, especially when going against decks that rely on turn-six surprises or lean on more reactive “tech” cards. Learning the ins and outs of the most popular decks and card combos will better equip you to anticipate and outsmart your foe, or at the very least retreat when appropriate.

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Play the locations. Locations are the most important element of randomness in “Marvel Snap.” Try to include at least one card in your deck that can transfer power to locked-down locations, like Nightcrawler or Squirrel Girl, and try to wait until all locations are revealed on turn three before snapping or making risky plays.

Brush up on the list of all locations here and how you can best take advantage of them. Also try to have decks ready to take advantage of both featured and hot locations (On Reveal builds for Kamar-Taj, Destroy ones for Hala) and make sure to swap your deck if a featured or hot location puts you at a disadvantage.

Have an ideal play order. Weak decks in “Marvel Snap” tend to have an uneven cost distribution, meaning you have too many lower-cost cards or an overabundance of expensive ones. But every strong deck should have a clear order in which you can play at least one or more cards per turn to maximum effect.

You also want a variety of what are called win conditions, or a sequence of cards that give a high likelihood of victory. For instance, play Patriot into Mystique and finish off with Ultron (but keep Onslaught in the deck and plenty of no-ability cards as a backup). Or play Storm into Juggernaut or Maximus, and then power up both with either Silver Surfer or Ironheart depending on which ends up in your hand.

Leave wiggle room for playing counters when you don’t get a favorable draw, or just whenever the situation calls for it.

Learn when to snap, and when to retreat. This phrase has become a common refrain in the “Marvel Snap” community for a reason. Snapping is where you can exert the most control over the outcome of a game, and it’s vital to understand when it makes sense to gamble and when to play conservatively. Did your opponent get unlucky and play a card at an unfavorable location before it was revealed? Consider snapping. Are you uncertain about your turn six play and worried your opponent has a trick up their sleeve? Hold off, or retreat if you must.

Because you can lose fewer cubes when you retreat or are defeated, and win more when you gamble successfully, you can actually climb the ladder in “Marvel Snap” while winning fewer than 50% of your games. Certain decks, because of their ideal win conditions, lend well to snapping in the first few turns if you happen to get a strong opening hand, like ones with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur or Psylocke and Mr. Negative. Others that rely on big final plays, like decks built around Hela or Leader, should be played more conservatively.

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Control (or at least understand) turn order

Turn order, or who flips first, is crucial in “Marvel Snap,” especially for On Reveal effects. Turn order is not random except on the first turn. After that, priority is granted to whoever is winning the match should it end immediately.

Turn order can make or break entire matches depending on who is able to maintain power advantage, and this is especially true for popular On Reveal builds centered on Arnim Zola and Wong that can be easily shut down with Cosmo. Conversely, going second has benefits, too, allowing your more reactive cards the opportunity to disable or destroy an opposing card after it’s played (like with Killmonger or Shang-Chi). Know which you need and pay close attention.

Plan around deck synergies and tech cards

It’s fairly easy to find what the community considers to be meta. Sites like Marvel Snap Zone are fantastic resources for delving deeper into deck builds, and this helpful infographic from Marvel Snap Reddit member CozySnap is a great way to glean some popular and devastating card combos. (I’m a fan in particular of combining Death and Wave, Mr. Negative and Iron Man, and Venom and Taskmaster.)

Yet more important is foreseeing an opponent’s counter-strategy and employing some counter-strategy of your own. That’s where tech cards, or cards designed specifically to counter popular strategies, come in. Killmonger, Enchantress, and Cosmo are popular options in this department. There’s also Armor, which is great at countering Killmonger and Destroy decks, and Scarlet Witch and Storm, which can reset unfavorable locations.

Including at least one or two tech cards per deck is advisable, but don’t stack your build with them. Instead, pick ones that work well with your overall deck theme. Use Killmonger in a Destroy deck with Death, Nova and Squirrel Girl. Or try Cosmo in an Ongoing deck using Destroyer, Professor X and Spectrum.

Try Invisible Woman if you’re running into Cosmo or Enchantress too often, letting you play cards like Blue Marvel and Wong in peace. Negative cards like Hobgoblin are great fun, but beware: they can backfire if an opponent triggers their On Reveal effect a second time using Odin.

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More best practices for climbing the ladder

There’s not just one way to win in “Marvel Snap,” and no one deck can reliably carry you from the bottom rank to Infinite. You’ll need to deploy different approaches at different points in the ladder and be prepared to throw out what you’re comfortable with when it stops working.

Getting stuck is natural. “Marvel Snap” matchmaking will always have some element of mystery to it, so finding yourself hitting a wall at some point in the ladder is perfectly normal. In this situation, try to identify what’s going wrong with each loss. Do you have a strong deck you’re playing incorrectly, either by sequencing your cards poorly or just showing your hand too early? Or did you do everything right and still lose? In that event, you may need to mix it up. Trying a new deck can work, but it’s also useful to slot a tech card into your current deck to counter strategies that repeatedly foil your own. (Cosmo is your best friend here.)

Prepare for meta shutdowns. Popular strategies tend to invite aggressive counters. The strength of “Marvel Snap’s” tech cards combined with its small deck size means you can’t rely on any one card to win games with consistency. If you turn to meta decks, like one with Wong and On Reveal cards, expect Cosmo or Enchantress. And if you’re leaning on a Black Panther or Devil Dinosaur strategy, expect Shang-Chi (and beware the turn order). If you’re playing a lot of one-cost cards, expect Killmonger. Yet if you can bait these tech cards early or wait to play around them, you can retain your deck's edge on turns five and six.

Be strategic about filling locations. It’s typically a bad idea to fill a location early in “Marvel Snap,” but this can be used to your advantage. Loading one location on turn three or four with the help of cards like Brood and Mister Sinister or one-cost cards like Antman, Sunspot, and Squirrel Girl can lead to surprising late-game flips using power-ups from Blue Marvel and Silver Surfer. You can also distract an opponent this way, drawing their attention away from the other two locations and giving you the option to lock down a lane with Professor X or Spider-Man.

Beware a quiet opponent. Powerful meta cards, like Armin Zola and Leader, are quite difficult to deal with unless you happen to have the perfect counter at the perfect time. Your best bet is to try to anticipate these plays and, if that fails, do not snap. If it looks like your opponent is waiting to do something tricky on turn six, chances are they’re going to play a game-winning six-cost card or dump plenty of lower-cost cards to turn the tides. Reading these situations and retreating if you can are key to climbing.

Be flexible, experiment and steal. The strongest decks don’t rely on just one card or combo to win. It’s key to have a flexible deck and to experiment a lot, even if it means losing, as well as to shamelessly steal strategies you see online or while playing. Some of my best decks are those I played against and tinkered with to make them work for me. Do this and you’ll pick up a better understanding of the game — and maybe even a winning strategy that’s all your own.

Nick Statt is a writer and editor who’s spent more than a decade covering the technology and gaming industries for publications including CNET, The Verge and Protocol.

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