SPOILER ALERT: I finished in Vibranium again.
There were a lot of changes this PvP season. The biggest one for me was that they removed the ability to ghost tank. This was probably a smart move for game balance (and, um, logic), but I can't say that I was happy about it, since I had gotten used to it. I began the season not entierly confident that I would be able to do well without it.
I had outleveled my Kuzuri badly enough that I switched it out for the Watcher of Attilan. I was sad to lose the counter-attack, but the minimal damage that my counters did wasn't worth holding onto it instead of getting the Watcher's level-appropriate damage and Distraction effect. A lot of other players felt similarly; there was an awful lot of Attilan gear this season, and Distraction meant that suddenly dodging actually happened in PvP.
I held onto the Shepherd's Staff, Scroll of Angolob and replaced the Sinister Scepter with the handy Savant's Spear. Without my tanking, I needed something for defense, and being able to Generalize infiltrators proved really useful.
On defense, I swapped out the Magnetic Field Generator for the Emerald Prism halfway through the season, but I'm not sure that was a smart move. My AFK wins dropped after that. That might have been because the competition got harder the longer into the tournament I was, or it may be that the AI is better with the MFG. I switched it because I was having such trouble with opposing Agents equipped using it, but I run two characters with mutliple hits per attack, which is not the case for everyone. Since I'll have more interesting equipment choices next season, including the Synthetic Cube and the Vigilante Toolkit (which I am currently researching as I write this), I expect that I'll change up my Agent's gear quite a bit.
Since my Iron Patriot and Emma Frost team was still giving me 20%+ wins on defense, I didn't see any reason to change them out. It's cheaper to only be maintaining the ISO on two characters, and since there's no problem winning on offense with them, I kept them as my offensive team as well. I suspect being so far outside the meta (I never once saw a mirror image team this tournament, and only saw it once in the last one) gives an advantage -- offensive teams may not be being built to deal with such an aggressive defense.
Playing without Ghost Tanking
Since hitting level 125, the armory difference between me and money spenders became less challenging, especially since I could fill it up with the Vigil of Attilan. I think that this is worth giving as advice to new free players; if you don't want to seriously park and only play PvP, the thing to do is to level efficiently for the armory unlocks. You can still be outspent, but more armory evens the field a bit.
Ares, Rogue, and Elektra were the stars of the season. Definitely saw enough of Cyclops and Rescue, along with most of the old standbys, although the nerf to Phoenix meant that there was much less of her. Being able to generalize Infiltrators meant that there really wasn't a teamup that really made me sweat when I saw it come up. Every difficulty that I had was about the Agent gear -- either the aforementioned Emeral Prism (sometimes combined with the Bio-Metric ID Card and Scroll of Angolob for a really annoying entirely defensive Agent that takes forever to wear down -- IP's L1 is the only option I had for actually doing damage), or the Warbringer Axe (which seems to be waning in popularity a little).
I didn't sweat leveling up IP and Emma to the new level 13 -- I drew the high end of the variable pricing, so I gambled on being able to finish the season without using any Empowered Iso-8. I doubt that will be the case next season, so I'm going to have to make some decisions about what to slot. I was seeing a lot of teams that did have some slotted, and by next season I predict it will be ubiquitous, so not having any will be a handicap. The Relentless looks to be what I would want to use, but that is a big CP investment at the highest pricing.
Getting the armor was the goal. It's the ony armor with the extra slot for Empowered Iso-8, so I didn't want to put myself at a disadvantage next tournament by not having it. That means my Agent will be an Infiltrator again for the first time since the very low levels, and Wolverine is going to give me a headache. I expect we'll see a lot of him and Quicksilver next season. It might be smart for me to pick up Wolverine and farm for Quicksilver's Empowered ISO in case that's clearly the way to go, or to instead level up Ares and pick up World War Hulk to counter the Scrappers countering the Infiltrator Agents.
I wound up with four out of the five Rift Essences that I needed. Assuming that I finish farming for Incursion Fields, and that I'll need to skip the Red Skull task because I haven't unlocked that level, I will wind up spending 20 Gold for the Cube, which seems unquestionably worth it.