Friday, August 24, 2012

Study Guide: Dark Irregulars

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
The final word in Cardfight's soul-based clans, unlike the Pale Moon's use of the soul as a secondary hand, or OraThin's use of the soul as a threshold for skill activation, the Dark Irregulars build up the soul as ammunition for violent and highly destructive maneuvers. It's through these devastating techniques that the Irregulars can force cards from the opponent's hand, layering skills together to force them to lay out more guards while restricting which cards they can guard with.

The Irregulars' initial first vanguard is Vermillion Gatekeeper, and unlike with Pale Moon's Hades Ringmaster it has no competition for that place. Vermillion's immediate soulcharge 1 may not be a direct addition to the hand, but it is a welcome way to prepare the clan's explosive soul-based skills. Like Moon, the Irregulars have a soulcharging grade 1 that complements this FVG, Alluring Succubus. Being the Dark counterpart to Skull Juggler, her skill is highly valuable for having no way to be feasibly stopped, and her boost is useful for the clan's plethora of 9000-power grade 2s.

In terms of trigger bases, the Irregulars need as many draw triggers as possible to survive due to their tendency to soulcharge important cards while having few ways of gaining card advantage. Until the release of set 7, you cannot rely on an FVG for advantage, and the counterblast in Irregulars is always a scarce resource with no real way of unflipping it. A DI cardfighter also needs to be wary of triggers like Hysteric Shirley and Dark Queen of Nightmareland. Both of these triggers boast a useful skill, but what they share in common is that they leave the field after use and actively reduce card advantage in that way. So while it may be tempting to utilize these units, they harm your ability to survive in the long run and should be kept close, up until you're prepared to go in for the kill.

Doreen the Thruster is the clan's main booster. Being an Irregular release of Young Pegasus Knight, she gains +3000 power per each main phase soul charge--that means that every soulcharge after the first is going to result in an attack of at least 16000 power with her boost, and more typically 20000 and above. This combos well with two of their initial grade 3s, Stil Vampir and Demon Eater, who as the clan megablasters are required to soulcharge every turn that they are in the vanguard circle. Combined with Eater or Vampir's own skill, that creates an immediate 21000-power line. Even when Doreen's skill isn't active, 6000 power is enough for a rearguard Vampir, Eater or Werwolf Sieger to oppose 11000-power units with. Megablasters as a whole should be paid attention to, as in a soul-based deck that emphasizes nonspecific charges they are useful for activating rearguard skills for a more focused field.

Bloody Calf is a card that many cardfighters were excited to see included in the EN release of Demonic  Lord Invasion. Calf is a sort of grade 1 version of Berserk Dragon, counterblasting 2 to retire a grade 1 or lower rearguard. This is an intimidating skill that can put a stop to many early strategies that involve the first vanguard, retiring Conroe, Kyrph or a unit intending to set up Black Dragon Knight, Vortimer's superior call skill, but keep in mind that for the Irregulars counterblast is completely unflippable and any lost is lost permanently. This makes her utility doubtful, because that counterblast is arguably better reserved for units like the grade 3s Demon World Marquis Amon, King of Diptera Beelzebub or Stil Vampir.

Amon's counterblast is a CB1 to soulcharge one rearguard and retire one of the opponent's. While the opponent gets to choose which rearguard is lost, the effect this has on the field is like Calf's but better, as for each card in the soul Amon gets +1000 additional power during his fighter's turn, and the skill fuels Doreen besides. With Doreen out, a single counterblast creates a 20000-power line while also removing one of the opponent's rearguard, while a second one will then make that line 24000-power, and by that time the opponent has to take into account that they'll need to call two more units on their next turn while also guarding for this one. This is also not taking into account that at a minimum, Amon will have four units in the soul already. For the same cost, his skill is overwhelmingly better than Calf's and comes at a more useful point in the game. Calf's 7000 power does make her a good booster, just like Succubus, but her skill is less likely to come out because of how it pales in comparison to higher-grade alternatives.

Devil Child is a 10000-power vanguard-exclusive boost introduced in set 5, with her criteria being to have six soul. For the Irregulars this is an easy number to reach, but a deck that uses either of the clan's megablasters will have trouble maintaining it if they intend to get off their skills, and so she is recommended primarily for Amon or Beelzebub. Due to her skill being limited to the vanguard, and only being a 6000-power booster outside of that, it's recommended to use her in copies of two or three if at all. Nightmare Baby similarly gives a 10000-power boost, but only for Blue Dust; this means that their attack cannot reach over 19000 power without triggers or other skills in effect, but this does effectively give the deck one more way of forming a 16000-power line while being strong enough to oppose crossrides and get Blue Dust's on-hit soulcharge 1 through.

As with Pale Moon's Big League Bear, Dark Soul Conductor is their primary grade 2 soulcharger. And like with Bear, the strategy for the Irregulars is to use the secret technique of the bear by guarding from the hand, unavoidably getting that soulcharge 2 through while also stopping an enemy attack. Decadent Succubus falls right in line with Elephant Juggler, due to having little utility in the rearguard and her skill being limited to a single turn. What's obvious by now is that the Dark Irregulars share many of the strengths, weaknesses and early-to-mid game setup of Pale Moon. Their games are fundamentally different though, because for an Irregulars deck from sets 3 to 5, it doesn't matter what's in your soul; it only matters that you have a large amount of it. Because they are not picky about which cards are present, the clan is arguably easier to form decisive matches with, as they get more out of unspecific soulcharges than Moon, which benefits enormously when it gets chance to pick the targets of its charges.

Imprisoned Fallen Angel, Saraquael is something of an orphaned unit in the series. She's an 11000-power grade 2, which naturally means giving her the restraint skill, and she unlocks herself with a soulblast 3. That's generally detrimental to the Irregulars' style of play, as releasing built up cards for such small maneuvers is not in line with their bigger vanguards, but Saraquael also receives a +5000 power boost in the vanguard circle and so can make for a strong ride while also being difficult to get rid of in the rearguard. She's one of the more troublesome units, and will necessitate an autoskill soulcharge vanguard if you intend to use her frequently.

Between the two megablasters, Stil Vampir has the lead over Demon Eater. In the first place, his skill is an activate skill, not an autoskill; for a megablast this means that the skill is used in the main phase and not the battle phase, and so does not have to hit to be used. Already Stil's skill is going to be used more consistently than Eater's, and the results of it are far more devastating than the standard "retire all of the opponent's rearguards." When Vampir's counterblast 5 soulblast 8 is activated, you choose one of the opponent's rearguards and force them to ride it for your turn. While they get to choose a unit from their soul to ride on the following turn, the truly important aspect of this is that it limits what they can guard with. If the opponent is made to ride a grade 1 unit, that locks them out of calling grade 2 units to the guardian circle, although it does not lock them out of using intercept, so be wary of especial intercept units like Gordon and Nemean Lion. Even worse than this though, if the opponent is locked at grade 0 then they cannot call perfect defense cards to the guardian circle, and as all grade 0 units are locked at 6000 or less power, this forces them to call a minimum of three cards per attack, up to four with Doreen boosting for 9000 and a vanguard Stil Vampir.

So by limiting what the opponent can guard with, forcing them to guard for more, and preparing this with heavy soulcharge units, Stil Vampir earns his place over Eater. Another option for deckbuilding is Edel Rose; her skill is identical to Solitary Knight, Gancelot but is centered around the 10000-power Werewolf Sieger rather than Blaster Blade. While her ability to fetch Sieger from the deck can be extremely useful, her low 9000 power makes it incredibly difficult to defend the opponent's attacks, as even a rearguard with 20000 power requires two cards to guard against, and three to fully stop a vanguard of the same. Amon and his overwhelming Inferno Ritual skill is much more recommendable over Edel, and given that Stil can fuel his skill on preceding turns by soulcharging additional cards, the Demon World Marquis complements Vampir very well.

The Dark Irregulars have two 11000 power vanguards. Both King of Diptera, Beelzebub and No Life King, Death Anchor share their conditions, requiring eight or more cards to be in the soul for their continuous +1000 power to activate. Death Anchor fuels this better than Beelzebub because he soulcharges at the start of each main phase, and he gains +2000 power besides, letting him fight crossrides even if unboosted. Like Vampir and Demon Eater, this makes Doreen a 9000-power booster right off the bat for a 22000-power column immediately, but the similarities between them end there as Death Anchor's skill is completely different. When Anchor attacks, he soulcharges five face-up cards from the damage zone and then gains +10000 power and +1 critical, then sends five more cards to the damage zone face-up in the end phase of the turn. Because this massive soulcharge happens in the battle phase rather than the main phase, Doreen will not gain a power boost, so 37000 power and critical 2 is unfortunately out of our reach. As stated though, Death Anchor does power her up with his main phase soulcharge, so he's still striking for 32000 power which isn't too far off the mark in the first place. This attack takes four cards to completely guard, short of any perfect defense cards coming into play, so it's monstrous enough. Death Anchor can effectively achieve a soulcharge 6 in one turn, setting up very well for Amon who will be at at least 26000 power on the next turn, barring any soulblasts. Also note that when he sends the five new cards to damage zone, it's not considered a damage check, so no triggers can activate. This skill is very risky because it takes cards out of the deck at a rapid pace and requires you to not use any counterblast in the fight, but it can create interesting scenarios if you deal the final damage that turn and so the end phase never comes--records will show the fight with you at 0 damage and the opponent at 6.

While the No-Life King was vanguard-focused, Beelzebub is oriented more towards the rearguard. When he attacks, if there are six or more cards in the soul then Beelzebub can counterblast 2 to give two rearguard Irregulars +3000 power for the turn. According to the manual and Bushiblog, you attack before you boost, so you can in fact give this power to Beelzebub's booster and then transfer it to him by way of boost. The skill is fairly lackluster when compared to No-Life King, who has no soul conditions for his autoskill's activation and can actually become 11000 with his own skills, but Beelzebub is overall more versatile because he enhances the rearguard for multiple attacks on that turn. Anchor is a manga promo card, and so much more difficult to acquire--when it will see release in the English game is not even certain at this point--but his synergy with other cards in the clan, being able to build up for both Amon and Vampir with one maneuver, make a stronger case for his use. Think carefully while you construct your deck, as the Irregulars are difficult to master and are less straightforward than traditional clans like Kagerou and RoPala.

Next time I'll be covering the Irregulars' set 7 cards, Blade Wing Reijy and their limit breaker, Dark Lord of Abyss.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Card Art: BT04/045 Blaster Javelin

Illustration: Ryuutetsu
Design: Itou Akira
Rarity: C
Among the Shadow Paladins, one common debate is exactly which card is a mirror of which Royal Paladin. Fullbau was a complicated case, being a composite counterpart to Graeme, Wingal and Wingal Brave, but Blaster Javelin is more straightforward. Sharing their designers, as well as grade and overall presence in their respective armies, Blaster Javelin is direct a counterpart to Knight Squire, Alen. The two units have a number of similarities between their armors, and Javelin's helm appears to be an inversion of how Alen's was designed, having a general downward slope that proceeds toward the ground rather than the upward-facing structures above Alen's brow. In addition to their visual similarities, both units represent opening rides of their respective manga users, Suzugamori Ren and Sendou Aichi, and each unit carries a power gain skill.

Following through with the narrative that Fullbau began, Blaster Javelin's scene is opened in the middle of a stair, approaching the ascent to where Blaster Dark stands. One of the skyscrapers present in the latter's art can even be seen in the backdrop, adding the foreboding sense of something appearing from behind Javelin. At first the angle disorients the viewer away from this, giving the impression of Javelin being suspended in directionless space, but his shadow gives weight to the image and establishes which direction the stair is leading.

Despite Blaster Javelin's right leg being absent from the illustration, we are given the suggestion of its presence by the broad, spade-like form of his weapon. The point terminates where his other foot would rest. Despite being elevated above Fullbau's preceding illustration, which appeared to be well-lit by the midday sun, in Javelin's painting the sky is becoming rapidly clouded and we cannot find the actual light source inside of the frame. Toward our right the light levels change enough that the sun appears to be setting outside of our view, and nighttime can be seen subtly coming up on the left. This creates an interesting situation in which Javelin is situated perfectly between night and day, being a metaphorical "shadow" between them that shows some participation between the art creation and his card lore.

Similar to Fullbau, Blaster Javelin's body is drawn low to the ground, in a very masculine pose that reflects him in a more Far Eastern light than as the European influence that paladin cards usually evoke. These low, earthly postures are common in traditional depictions of samurai, where the earth and masculinity had a close association through the Orphean narrative of Izanagi's journey through Yomi. This, combined with the positioning of his armor plates--patterned along the same lines as ou-yoroi but with a short cape integrated to prevent him from being completely dissociated with his knightly counterparts--significantly removes Javelin from how his Royal Paladin opposition, and Alen in particular is traditionally interpreted, as European knights.

In terms of body formation, this puts the emphasis on the legs and stomach, creating a triangle where all parts of the body are oriented to the floor. Rather than creating an idealized western physique with a thin waist and prominent shoulders, this highlights old Japanese concepts of masculinity where the warrior canon of proportions features prominent lower body structure, based on the samurai class' physique. For comparison, consider how these three Edo-period woodblock prints line up with Javelin's posture. Utagawa Kuniyoshi's eighteenth century depiction of Isoai Juuroemon Masahisa and Tsukioka Yoshitaka's nineteenth century print of Mitsumura Jirouemon both show classic masculine posture, while this Edo-period print is nearly identical in stance.

Javelin's expression contributes to the samurai interpretation of him, showcasing a form of expressive restraint characteristic of that same old masculinity that his posture suggests.

The javelin weapon he holds is also similar to a naginata, a common weapon among the samurai class. The reason that this point has to be so heavily stressed is that the javelin he's holding wouldn't normally look this way, but Ryuutetsu exploits the angle to give it an artificial curvature, and force that appearance onto the weapon. This reflects Javelin's character, retaining the fealty of Japanese bushi. So in spite of belonging to a terrorist organization like Shadow Paladin, Javelin attempts to maintain his honor, being caught up between his own internal sense of justice (the Shadow Paladins) and the laws of the system he was born into (the Royal Paladins.) This type of lionized self-versus-world narrative is a recurring element of Japanese storytelling, which often gives the spotlight to a samurai's personal beliefs coming into conflict with having to show absolute loyalty to his feudal lord. In Javelin's case, he chooses to forgo the traditional approach of honorable suicide in favor of joining up with the Shadow Paladin's ranks, the setting's equivalent to becoming a masterless ronin.

Blaster Javelin's lore, translated by NeoArkadia;
"A spear-wielding knight drowning in darkness, armed with a black Blaster. Although he was originally a Paladin, he found himself questioning the very system of this decadent country, allowing the dragon of hell to turn him into a knight of the shadows. Despite being turned to darkness, there is no replacing the heavy loyalty he holds, as he will faithfully follow those whom he considers his master, no matter what."

Citations and External Links
Main article, sky, posture and stair commentary by Touya. Samurai commentary jointly provided by Wolthera and Touya. Lore translation by NeoArkadia.

View this painting on the artist's personal gallery.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Oracle Think Tank Extra Study Material: Goddess of the Full Moon, Tsukuyomi

 Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
VGE-BT03: Demonic Lord Invasion introduces a new play style for OraThin. Essentially an extension of their divination strategy, this build is characterized by making use of a high amount of soul and the Godhawk-Tsukuyomi line to enhance its ability to predict the future.

Ichibyoshi, seemingly an analogue for the mythic Yatagarasu bird that embodied the will of heaven, is Tsukuyomi's herald; accordingly, his one and only skill is to look at anywhere from 0 to 5 cards from the top of the deck to bring her Crescent Moon form into the field through a superior ride. During the initial release of set 3 this was considered the skill's only utility, but Misaki has taught us better since then. The skill also requires any other cards examined in this way to be sent to the bottom of the deck, in whatever order his cardfighter desires. So if the skill succeeds, then that gives an immediate one-card advantage, while even if it fails it can be combined with subsequent entries in the moon goddess line to stack the deck through careful trigger placement.

Crescent and Half Moon Tsukuyomi each search five cards in an identical fashion. Because all forms of Tsukuyomi are ridden from the deck, this protects the player from having to pay the cost of riding, giving a total three card advantage at its maximum potential. While this doesn't directly add any cards to the hand, preserving it gives the same general effect as that's three cards more to guard with, or three more calls that aren't straining your advantage. Even if none of the superior rides are successful, so long as you normal ride each entry in the series, then on the turn that you reach grade 3 you have a staggering 15 card stack on the bottom of your (usually) 34-35 card deck instead of 12/31 or 12/32. So when the rides are unsuccessful, you still have the same general number of cards to dig through to reach your stack as you would with successful rides.

This method of riding does come with drawbacks. Each form of Tsukuyomi is weaker than standard units of similar grade, and her final form is overall weakened if any of the other Tsukuyomi cards are missing from the soul. And while Amaterasu could consistently reach 20000 power with Milk even if she had just two cards in hand before her drive check, and get as high as 24000 with four in hand, Tsukuyomi with even one piece missing from her soul maxes out at 19000. It's not a primary concern for the English scene at the moment, but Amaterasu's 24000 is also a more serious threat to crossride units, while Tsukuyomi's 21000 is the same as Amaterasu with only two cards.

So just as Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto in myth shared his place in the heavens with Amaterasu, our Tsukuyomi can be complemented well by including Amaterasu in the deck. In addition to her inherent divination skill allowing the stack to be further built up when ridden as an alternative to Tsuku, by making her the only other grade 3 in the deck, that ensures that so long as Milk is in the back line, you will almost always have a 21000+ power vanguard. And if ridden correctly from Godhawk up to Goddess of the Half Moon, Half Moon's soulcharge 2 will ensure that riding Amaterasu as your grade 3 will leave you with a soul of six once the main phase has passed, just two cards away from being able to threaten with a megablast.

For additional soul support, Oracle Guardian Red-Eye can soulcharge 1 when his attack hits, simultaneously building up for either a megablast or Tsukuyomi's draw skill while also removing another card from the top of the deck to reach your stack. Blue-Eye is less recommendable due to having only 5000 power, which limits his boost to 11000-power Tsukuyomi units, and his skill is only active when you already have six soul, allowing you to send a card to the bottom of your stack while drawing from the deck. This is a great maneuver, as it simultaneously shaves off another card while building those on the stack, effectively letting you get 2 cards closer to your stack instead of just 1, but the price is a 5000 power unit that simply can't form a 16000-power line with anything but the Goddess of the Full Moon.

Twin Swords Awakening introduces a trio of new cards to support six-soul OraThin. Hare of Inaba soulcharges from the hand when called, which puts you at a disadvantage, but the ability to choose which card to soulcharge means that you can add in missing pieces of Tsukuyomi while also adding a sixth card in the event that Red-Eye is being guarded or Amaterasu isn't available. Evil-eye Princess, Euryale is the first card to utilize the bind mechanic, binding a card from the opponent's hand when she's ridden or called and you have six or more soul. While that card returns to the opponent's hand in the end phase, it temporarily puts them at a one card disadvantage in a deck where you most likely already have at least a two card lead. Euryale naturally forms a complementary formation with a Tsukuyomi vanguard and Silent Tom in the opposite column, removing one card from the opponent's hand while demanding seven cards with at least a 6000-power booster behind Euryale, and a Tsukuyomi-Milk and Silent Tom-Gemini lineup.

Battle Maiden, Tagitsuhime meanwhile is a 9000-power grade 2 that gains +3000 power while attacking. Like Euryale, this skill is restricted by six soul rules, and like similar grade 2s for RoyPala, ShadowPala and Kagerou, Tagitsuhime maxes out at 20000 power. Whether she's worth the investment over or in concert with Wiseman and Tom is an issue of personal experience, as that 20000 power is useful against top decks like Gold Paladin, but in the face of 11000 and higher units like those found in Nova Grappler and Dimension Police, Tom becomes more effective on the principle that he demands multiple cards to form a 10000-power shield instead of a single trigger unit to defend with. In crossride formats Tagitsuhime does have an important place for forming easy 18000-power lines, so she is a card that gets better with age.

Since the Tsukuyomi play style is naturally supported by existing divination cards like Cocoa, it's a very organic evolution for any OraThin cardfighter, and is used by a number of professionals in Japan's team tournaments. As some closing notes, these are the general probabilities for a successful superior ride each turn, taking into account how many cards have been removed from the deck through drive and damage checks (supposing 2 damage checks per turn up until G3), draws, Godhawk-Tsuku stacking skills and Tsukuyomi's grade 2 soulcharge. These numbers assume that each superior ride is successful, that the Tsukuyomi cardfighter takes the first turn, and that four of the next card in the line remains in the deck after each ride.
Godhawk, Ichibyoshi - 40.18%
Goddess of the Crescent Moon, Tsukuyomi - 47.66%
Goddess of the Half Moon, Tsukuyomi - 58.31%
Goddess of the Full Moon, Tsukuyomi - 79.20%
Next time I come back to Oracle Think Tank, it will be to discuss their coming empty soul play style from set 7, "Rampage of the Beast King."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Study Guide: Pale Moon

 Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
Cray's secret assassination service is one of several clans that can act with a second hand on the field. This can come as a surprise to fighters not familiar with the mechanics, but Pale Moon's unique soul skills allow it to act with more cards under their control than they actually hold. Under the right circumstances, the clan can even guard from the soul.

For its first vanguard, Hades Ringmaster soulcharges 1 when ridden over with a Pale Moon unit, setting up for their swap-from-soul play style. The ideal unit to ride over the Ringmaster with is Skull Juggler, who performs a soulcharge when ridden or called. Much as with Fullbau-Javelin, this promotes added stress on the redraw to bring out a specific grade 1. Unlike with those units however, Ringmaster's skill will still activate regardless of which unit his cardfighter rides. Because this skill always activates, this makes the manager consistent; the cards he soulcharges are a different story.

The key weakness of both Hades Ringmaster and Skull Juggler is that they cannot specify which units to soulcharge and so will frequently add trigger units to the soul--to a soul-based deck, these dead charges are anathema. Additionally, because he doesn't add any cards to the hand or field, and most all soulcharges are one-for-one, Hades Ringmaster puts Pale Moon cardfighters at an inherent disadvantage against their contemporaries.

Taken inside his original context of Descent of the King of Knights leading into Demonic Lord Invasion, this is not so bad because opposing FVGs are likewise intended to exit the field. Barcgal, Conroe and Mecha Trainer are the exceptions rather than the rule here, because Barcgal only offers the potential to trade himself in for the same advantage through Blaster Blade's counterblast, while Conroe and Mecha Trainer are the first units of their kind to genuinely increase advantage with no caveats. However, the Ichibyoshi from the same set as well as more modern units that are currently active in the English game like Kyrph and Vortimer directly add to advantage, dimming the Ringmaster's spotlight.

Because of this characteristic, the Ringmaster and his soulcharge is sometimes eschewed for EB03's Lark Pidgeon, a grade 0 unit that can be superior called from the soul to the guardian circle when his cardfighter has no cards in hand. Neither of these units confer a direct advantage at the moment of the ride, but unlike Ringmaster, Lark Pidgeon is an increase in advantage because he provides an extra unit to guard with. Which FVG you use depends heavily on personal experience with Ringmaster's skill; while it can be useful to soul-in key cards with your opening ride, many fighters know the pain of being 5000 or 10000 shield short of stopping all three attacks in a turn.

Regarding the trigger balance, Pale Moon's access to multiple types of draw triggers is intended to supplement the lack of card advantage generated by Hades Ringmaster. As such, eight draw triggers with four Dynamite Juggler is more or less necessary, with no real variation until the Hoop Magician stand trigger becomes available in EB03--having no skill, it's hardly attractive to the Moon's play style. Meanwhile, BT06's Sky High Walker has a damage unflipping skill that's leagues above those of his competitors, and while many shy away from stand triggers, in a Pale Moon deck the ability to stand an Alice or Mirror Demon that has just been denied a chance at soul-swapping cannot be valued enough.

The aforementioned Skull Juggler is a lauded mainstay of the Pale Moon clan. His skill is immediate and cannot be countered, although its weakness is well documented. His 7000 power invites damage needed for counterblast, and these traits in general make him a perfect opening ride for Pale Moon. Starting Presenter is a more powerful opening ride since he soulcharges 2 when ridden over, but only has 6000 power for boosting and no rearguard skills.

For soul swap skills, Midnight Bunny and Purple Trapezist have been kings of the hill in Japan for the better part of a year. Bunny pays Gap's cost when the attack of a unit she boosts hits, to superior call any Pale Moon except herself from the soul; most often this is her grade 3 counterpart Alice, or the aforementioned Purple Trapezist.

Trapezist soulcharges another Pale Moon rearguard when called, to superior call a Pale Moon that doesn't match her color. This skill is the core of the most effective soul strategies. The idea is to call Trapezist with Bunny, then soulcharge the unit Bunny had boosted to bring out Alice, Cerberus or another attacker that Trapezist could boost. Alice furthers the combo, potentially superior calling Bunny to start the chain all over again, but this tactic's effectiveness is limited by the opponent's ability to guard the attack, by counterblast and by the contents of your soul.

Outside of Bunny and Trapezist, Turquoise Beast Tamer is intended as the main line of support for both vanguard and rearguard offense. She gains +3000 power when Crimson Beast Tamer is in the soul, giving a total 9000 power boost that two of the clan's main vanguards can make use of to break the 20000 barrier. Turquoise also combos with Crimson for a rearguard 20000-power line, but with the plethora of available 11000-power units in the English game, this may be better substituted for an Alice. Ultimately, Turquoise is not an essential part of the deck, but will definitely give it a strong boost and could be recommended to be run in copies of two.

Pale Moon's Skull Juggler equivalent at grade 2 is the 9000-power Nitro Juggler. Being an unstoppable soulcharge, the card is naturally popular. However, unlike Skull, Nitro has serious competition from Big League Bear, who soulcharges 2 when he's moved from the guardian circle to hte drop zone. The natural assumption si to set him up with Darkmetal Bicorn and then intercept from there. This however, consumes a space that could be better left to the 10000-power Cerberus or Pale Moon's offensive soul swap units, and it invites your opponent to attack the Bear to deny you your soulcharge.

In that scenario, you would be spending around 15000 shield to defend a unit that you have every intention of losing, putting you at a three card disadvantage just for a soulcharge 2. The solution then, is to employ the secret technique of the secret technique of the Bear; guard with him from the hand to net you your soulcharge 2, denying your opponent an attack while unavoidably getting those cards in the soul. For his ability to deny attacks while soulcharging and leaving room for more offensive units, Big League Bear takes Juggler's place in the arena.

The soulcharge series does not stop there, however. Elephant Juggler is Pale Moon's Decadent Succubus, soulcharging 1 every time you call a Pale Moon card. You can of course combine this with Skull Juggler to soulcharge 2 on that call, but this powerful maneuver comes at the cost of only being usable in the vanguard circle. That makes the remaining Elephants into dead weight that threatens to clog your soul instead of more valuable units like Bunny and Alice, or otherwise fill up field spots that could be better utilized.

There's also the Hungry Pierrot Clown to consider. In either the vanguard or rearguard circles, when his attack hits you can immediately soulcharge 1. This is better than Nitro Juggler by forcing the opponent to defend while also being a repeatable skill, but it's inferior to Big League Bear's unstoppable nature. It's also a cut above Elephant Juggler since it functions in either circle. Ultimately, Big League will always be the better grade 2 soulcharge, but Hungry Clown can work as a secondary unit.

As far as actually utilizing this soul count, the aforementioned Crimson Beast Tamer rises up from 8000 to 11000 when a copy of herself is in the soul, and while it's only on your turn, this is an effective combo with Purple Trapezist up until you run into 11000 and 13000-power vanguards. This also aids in bringing attacks up to 16000 and above, as any boosting unit in a Pale Moon deck can reach that number with Crimson. The skill further supports one of Pale Moon's vanguards grade 3s, Barking Manticore, by giving him +3000 power when Crimson is in the soul, ensuring that the bonus' value is not lost later in the game. The fact that this skill has such easy requirements to meet and is shared with Manticore gives Crimson a leg up over her alternative 12000-power grade 2, Jumping Jill, who only gains her power bonus when she's superior called to the rearguard. Crimson can do what Jill can in both circles, she's more consistent than her, and she supports a wider variety of units.

Mirror Demon is next in line for grade 2 soul manipulation. At just 8000 power he's very difficult to defend once on the field, particularly because of how easy it is for some clans to line up 18000-power columns, and while this characteristic is shared with Crimson Beast Tamer, unlike her the Demon is much more of a direct target. When his attack hits he can counterblast 1 to soul-in and superior call another Pale Moon (and as with Bunny, one that isn't himself), preferably Purple Trapezist as illustrated in the above combo, but this can also lead to early calls of Alice. The trouble with Demon is that the counterblast is already strained by more powerful units, and he demands Darkmetal Bicorn to be out for his support so that he can reliably get through the opponent's defenses. For that reason, he's lacking when compared to just using a simple Cerberus or Crimson.

Getting into the big leagues, two grade 3s were initially introduced as the vanguards for Pale Moon. Dusk Illusionist, Robert (written ロベール; the 't' is silent) and Barking Manticore. Ironically for a clan with such a long-standing rivalry, Robert is Amaterasu for Pale Moon. His skill is to soulcharge 1 at the start of the main phase, and look at the top card of the deck, then leave it on the top or bottom according to his fighter's will. This makes him the grade 3 soulcharger of Pale Moon, and it also endows him with the future-predicting abilities of Amaterasu, but the similarities end there. Robert does not receive Amaterasu's +4000 power bonus for having four or more cards in hand, and his megablast is an activate rather than at autoskill. So while his skill does not need to hit to be used, it also requires five open damage that a clan entirely based on counterblasting for its skills will not see come out with any kind of consistency. The lack of a power gain means that Robert can only attack for 19000 power maximum before his drive checks, which gives him very little pressure when compared to the alternative.

As I said before, Barking Manticore gains +3000 power when Crimson Beast Tamer is in the soul, making him hit for 21000 with Bicorn and 22000 with Turquoise. That's an immediate advantage over Robert, and when ridden Manticore allows you to draw a card and send a card to the soul. While this restricts his role as a grade 3 soulcharge unit to just the turns that you ride him, and it does not confer a direct advantage because the gain from the draw is negated by the soulcharge, being able to choose which units go into your soul is an enormous powerful skill, and if you should use this to do something like get your second Lark Pidgeon into the soul, it could be considered a gain in card advantage. So while it's more limited, Manticore has the essential benefits of Robert (the soulcharge) with more control over what goes in, and more power to attack with. That makes Manticore king here.

Of course, just because he has Robert's better qualities with some added benefits does not mean that Robert cannot be used at all. Unlike with many of the cards discussed here, for the time being there's plenty of room to include Manticore, Robert and Alice all in the same lineup, either with 2 Robert, 3 Manticore and 3 Alice, or with the numbers flipped around for 3 Robert, 3 Manticore and 2 Alice. Later releases further dim Robert's prospects though, since while his megablast is usable in any circle, it's already shut down by the need for five open damage.

Mistress Hurricane is the final vanguard we'll be talking about today. She's also the first 11000 power vanguard for Pale Moon, which is an immediate point in her favor, although it comes with the restriction of needing 8 or more cards in the soul. With Big League Bear from the same set, Skull Juggler and possibly Hades Ringmaster working together, that eight cards is not so difficult to set up. Being 11000 allows her to strike for 20000 with Turquoise's boost, and coming sets also bring into play a 10000-power booster that puts her right in the same league as Manticore. Her skill is to, on-ride, counterblast 2 to superior call any Pale Moon from the soul. Taking into account the Sky High Walker that allows her to unflip damage, Mistress Hurricane is already giving card advantage that other Pale Moon vanguards don't normally have access to, and with this skill she can easily bring out Alice for a fresh attack or a Purple Trapezist to switch the formation around to be more favorable. Perhaps her greatest weakness is being outshined by the crossrides released in the same set, but taken within the view of her own clan, Hurricane easily beats out Robert for his spot in the deck.

Next time I revisit Pale Moon, it will be to discuss the coming BT07 cards and their much-loved limit breakers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Study Guide: Oracle Think Tank

 Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
Oracle Think Tank is one of the more intensive clans to play, requiring a great deal of forethought and planning to control the overall direction of a fight. Their strategy can be summarized as predicting the future; both the immediate future just moments away, and the distant future up to several hours in advance. As one of the oldest clans in Cardfight, Oracle came out of the box with its prediction strategy enduring to this day.

Like all Descent of the Knight King-era first vanguards, Lozenge Magus (and her reprint, Sphere Magus) is designed to leave the field. When ridden over, she moves to any rearguard circle of her fighter's choosing. And when boosting, Lozenge adds an additional +3000 to the attack, making her a solid +6000 power booster that can either form a 13000-power line with most grade 1 vanguards that will make the attack difficult to justify guarding, or set the second turn up for forming a 16000-power line with Wiseman. Cards like these are a form of hand conservation. Lozenge comes from "nowhere," taking nothing away from your hand and instead giving you a free unit. When compared to the likes of Stardust Trumpeter, Undeux and Kaleido Ace, you will generally call one less unit because you are gaining one automatically, removing the pressure from your hand. The flip side of this is that after boosting, Lozenge then returns to the deck in the end phase, and while this resets her user's card advantage back to 0, it's par for the course of a set 1 FVG.

Another option is to move Lozenge to a forward-facing rearguard circle and then call Gemini as a booster for her. This unusual method can produce an 11000 column that is occasionally sufficient for the first turn, but opens Lozenge up to being retired, and requires briefly flipping the column around to cycle her into the deck and open a circle up for Gemini to boost something more powerful once the game proper gets underway. That maneuver will likewise open Gemini up to attack, and still ultimately leaves Lozenge's fighter at a disadvantage while possibly deepening the disadvantage by ending with Gemini retired. Thus, Lozenge is usually best used as a booster on the first turn.

With the upcoming set 7 "Rampage of the Beast King," OraThin gets a new first vanguard for their old style of play. Like Lozenge, Battle Sister, Eclair moves to the rearguard when ridden over, and while her 4000 power won't be bringing any rearguards to speed, it can work with some vanguard OraThin skills that give power bonuses. More importantly, Eclair's skill is to counterblast 1 in the main phase, then soulcharge herself and look at the top five cards of the deck for a grade 3 Oracle Think Tank and add that unit to hand. While the random nature of this skill is a key weakness to Eclair, the resulting lack of advantage is essentially the same as using Lozenge while providing the opportunity to gain a one-card boost, and OraThin is a heavily soul reliant clan that benefits from having more cards in the soul. Even if Eclair doesn't grab a grade 3 for you, her presence in the soul can combo with some other cards described below like Luck Bird, or otherwise fuel vanguard soul-based skills. Most of these types of units don't have an argument for them because their skill is most useful later in the game when retire-based units like Gwynn, Saishin, Tejas, Blaster Blade and Berserk Dragon have hit the field, but in Eclair's case using her on the very first turn can be an enormous benefit to OraThin's play style.

While there's no particular grade 3 that Lozenge or Eclair are intended to work with, the units introduced in OraThin's debut set are CEO Amaterasu and Oracle Guardian, Apollon. Amaterasu will be the focus here, as Apollon is intended for the rearguard circle. Like her contemporary Vortex Dragon and Lohengrin, Amaterasu is a megablast unit that can counterblast 5 and soulblast 8 with a particular timing to achieve a clan-related effect. In her case, this skill is active in both the vanguard and rearguard circles, and she can activate it when her attack hits to draw five cards. This is fueled by her autoskill, soulcharging 1 at the start of the main phase; unlike the aforementioned units and more in the vein of Mr. Invincible, this skill is clan-related. While most megablast units gain +2000 power from their soulcharge, Amaterasu instead looks at the top card of the deck and choose to place it on the top or bottom. This is where Oracle Think Tank's short-term prediction abilities come in, because this lets you immediately know whether top card of the deck is a trigger or not, and if it isn't you can then place it on the bottom, or otherwise leave a good card on top to wage psychological warfare with the opponent while adding a good card to your hand.

The booster that ties in best to Amaterasu is Weather Girl, Milk. Milk's skill is simple--at the time that she boosts an Oracle Think Tank vanguard, if you have four or more cards in hand, the unit that she boosts will then gain a total +10000 bonus, bringing Amaterasu up to speed with 9000- and 10000-power vanguards. This also ties to Amaterasu's continuous skill, which gives her +4000 power when you have 4 or more cards in hand, for a 24000 total. However, while Amaterasu's skill will kick in even if you drive check your third and fourth cards, Milk's skill requires that you have four cards in hand when you boost with her. So if you only have two cards in hand and then use these two together, the sum power will only be 20000, not 24000, which gets in the way of fighting 11000-power vanguards.

If you know ahead of time that you'll only have two or three cards in hand during the boost, Gemini makes a better call than Milk does. With Gemini's 8000-power boost, Amaterasu can then reach 22000, just enough to get the same effect as Milk versus all but crossride units. The reason that 22000-24000 is such an important number is that experienced players usually guard your attacks to account for at least one trigger. When your attack power is just 20000, most vanguards will need one 10000 shield card and one 5000 shield card to defend with, but when it's at 22-24000, they'll need two 10000 shield cards. And at three or more damage, most people guard for two triggers, being wary of the maligned double-critical. So that's three 10000-shield cards and one 5000, taking four cards right out of their hand and leaving them open to pressure from your rearguards.

And speaking of rearguards, OraThin has one of the strongest grade 2 units in the existing game. Silent Tom only has 8000 power, and so will most certainly need Gemini to oppose higher-power vanguards, but his skill prevents him from being guarded with a grade 0 unit as long as you have an Oracle Think Tank vanguard. No grade 1 unit has a shield of 10000--only through specific, counterblast-based skills can a grade 1 unit achieve that amount of shield. So Silent Tom with Gemini automatically demands two cards to defend against, and if you apply one trigger to him, he now demands three. Amaterasu, Milk, Tom and Gemini applied together correctly can drain as many as six cards on a well set-up turn, barring a perfect defense coming into play.

Stressing the emphasis on prediction are the duo of Circle Magus and Battle Sister, Cocoa. Like Amaterasu, Magus allows you to examine the top card of the deck, this time when she's ridden or called. However, Circle requires you to leave the card on the top. Cocoa has just 6000 power, 1000 less than Magus, but lets you choose whether it goes on the top or bottom. These two, when used in a proper sequence with Amaterasu, can help you ensure that the top card of your deck is a trigger, or otherwise build a stack of cards on the bottom of your deck that you can eventually drive check into by using these units with OTT's draw skills to shave off the cards between you and your stack.

Aiding this is Luck Bird. Like Tom, Luck Bird is a part of the second set, and in the style of Amaterasu he brings into play OraThin's draw mechanics. For a soulblast two, when called Luck Bird can immediately draw one card, giving his cardfighter a one-card advantage right off the bat while providing a sufficient booster for Wiseman or Apollon to oppose 10000-power units with. Because this drains the soul, Luck Bird brings in a case for Eclair and her return-to-soul model rather than Lozenge's cycling-out style of play. That way, with Amaterasu's soulcharge taken into account, up to two Luck Birds can be used in one game (as long as you don't mind missing out on the megablast, but this usually doesn't go through in the first place.)

In addition to Silent Tom and the standard Wiseman, another recommendable grade 2 for OraThin is Battle Sister, Mocha. While like Tom, she has just 8000 power, when she attacks and you have four or more cards in hand, her power increases by +3000; this isn't enough to break the 20000 line even with a powerful booster, but it can let her get by with Luck Bird or Eclair as a boosting unit, and she's very likely to hit that number since you should be trying to have four cards in hand in the first place for Amaterasu and Milk.

Oracle Guardian, Apollon and Maiden of Libra bring a different variety of pressure. Most cardfighters prefer to either block a weaker rearguard and then take a full attack from the vanguard, or put everything into stopping the vanguard while taking both rearguard attacks. Apollon and Libra work differently--both of them counterblast 2 to draw a card when their attack hits. In the vanguard circle, Apollon pays the same cost to draw 2 and then return a card from the hand to the deck. Apollon's vanguard skill is actually less desirable because he then forces you to shuffle the deck, ruining your growing stack of cards, but in the rearguard these two units force the opponent to guard in order to stop you from gaining hand advantage. They can also combo versus 9-10000 power units (11000 for Apollon) with Moonsault Swallow, a 6000-power grade 1 that returns to hand when the attack of the unit that it boosts hits. If the attack is spent on a rearguard, you present to your opponent a scenario in which they would lose one card while you add two to your hand, giving you a potential minimum of 10000 and a maximum of 15000 extra shield to stop their attacks with. This forces the opponent to go from guarding just one or two units in the turn to all three, and as mentioned with Amaterasu and Silent Tom, they're already going to be down six cards by the end of that turn. In Apollon and Libra's case, that's an additional 10000 shield that they may just not have to spare, occasionally forcing them to accept you gaining a large lead in hand over them.

When I revisit this clan next, I'll be discussing their six-soul play style and the Goddess of the Full Moon, Tsukuyomi.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Main Coursework: Deckbuilding & Basic Rules

To build a deck, or to remodel a preconstructed deck, is both a necessary process in the road to becoming a professional cardfighter, and half the fun of a fight. Before even considering the cardfighters' skill levels, half or more of all fights are won before they begin; the challenge in Vanguard is derived from removing the luck through careful deckbuilding and selection of skills. We're going to start this chapter off by doing a rundown of the process.

Most players will be starting their decks from scratch, while others may choose to start with a trial deck and build from there. Neither of these ideas are wrong, but playing with a trial deck can teach you some key concepts about the game. I'll be covering these concepts regardless, so even cardfighters who start with booster packs won't be at a disadvantage.

Later sections covering clan strategies also contain helpful tips for how to build your deck, but it's a little advanced in terms of content. To get the most out of them, figure out what kind of clan suits you best first, then use those articles as a study guide. 

Basic Rules
All decks are governed by these restrictions;
  1. The deck must be exactly 50 cards.
  2. You can only have up to four cards with the same name in your deck, even if the picture on the card is different.
  3. You must have exactly 16 trigger cards in your deck, and no more than four of them can be heal triggers.
Card Choice
While you're free to choose which cards you use among your 50 card deck, simply putting in units with lots of power won't be an effective strategy. To start, you need to think about grade. On the first three turns of the game, your goal is to ride the next highest unit in grade. You start with a grade 0 of your choice on the field, then ride your grade 1, ride a grade 2 next turn, and a grade 3 on the turn after. The best way to maximize your chances of successfully riding is to minimize the amount of grade 0s in the deck (you are required to have at least 16 because all trigger units are grade 0s) while creating a pyramid of grades 1-3. Because you don't need to worry about grade 2s or 3s until the turn you ride one, having less of each grade than the next is helpful as you'll have drawn more cards by the time you need to ride those units, and so have a better chance of riding them while maximizing your odds of reaching grade 1.

You also need to consider the deck's synergy. This is a measure of how well your cards work together. For example, the grade 3 unit Monster Frank has a skill that lets you ride him when you're at grade 2 and he's in the drop zone. That's a good skill, since it doesn't consume a card from your hand to reach grade 3, but you'll also need plenty of cards that send units to the drop zone so that you can ride him.

Balancing Grade
I mentioned that you should have a pyramid of units grades 0-3, to better your chances of riding successfully. Since riding controls which units you can call to make attacks and guard with to stop the opponent's attacks, it's naturally an important part of the game. Cardfighters who practice with trial decks will already have some experience with this concept, because the decks are balanced so that beginners will have a very good chance of making each ride. Taking into account their composition;
  • Trial Decks 1 "Shining Swordsman of the Holy Land" & 2 "Raging Dragon of the Empire:" These decks have a balance of 17 grade 0 units, 16 of them being triggers and one being the first vanguard (FVG), 15 grade 1s, 10 grade 2s and 8 grade 3s. (17/15/10/8)
  • Trial Decks 3 "Golden Mechanical Soldier" & 4 "Princess Maiden of the Cherry Blossoms:" The fourth and fifth trial decks do not need to include an FVG, as one of their triggers does the same job. In this case, the decks use 16 grade 0s, 17 grade 1s, 10 grade 2s and 7 grade 3s. (16/17/10/7)
  • Trial Decks 5 "Slash of the Silver Wolf," 6 "Resonance of Thunder Dragon" & 7 "Descendents of the Marine Emperor:" Like 01 and 02, these decks introduce a new clan, so they return to the 17 grade 0 formula, with 16 triggers, one FVG, 15 grade 1s, 11 grade 2s and 7 grade 3s. (17/15/11/7)
These are the specific odds for drawing a card of a particular grade by the time you need to ride that grade, for each trial deck;

Grade 1 - 90.38% 
Grade 2 -  86.35%
Grade 3 - 86.35%
Grade 1 - 93.51%
Grade 2 - 86.35%
Grade 3 - 82.09%
TD05, 06&07
Grade 1 - 90.38%
Grade 2 - 89.15%
Grade 3 - 82.09%

As you can see, decks that follow 03 and 04's line of thinking can include an extra grade 1 or 2 because they have a trigger unit as their FVG. While this gives them more flexibility and their FVG has the benefit of moving to the rearguard, then cycling back into the deck, there's an important lesson that 01 and 02/04 and 05 are trying to impart by including a seventeenth grade 0. Not just trigger units, but also normal grade 0s frequently have skills that move them to the rearguard--alongside other skills that let them achieve additional effects like adding a card to your hand, calling another unit, or retiring one of your opponent's cards. Unlike trigger units, these normal unit FVGs do not cycle back into the deck or leave the field after boosting, so even after using their skills the cardfighter using them will retain control of one more card than you. That's one more card on the field that they can boost with, attack with or sacrifice for a skill, meaning they don't need to call one unit for these purposes. Most importantly of all, they control one more card than you. This is called card advantage.

Card Advantage
The basic principle behind card advantage in professional Cardfight is that if you control extra cards, you can pay more costs, use more units, and defend more easily. Since almost all defenses are made from the hand, being able to do something as simple as calling another boosting unit to the field helps conserve their hand for defense. Considering cards that will give you advantage is another crucial part of deckbuilding. For example, let's consider these two cards;
Dark Cat
Grade 1/Ability: Boost
Power 7000/Shield 5000/Clan: Oracle Think Tank
Auto: When this unit is placed on V or R, if you
have a 《Oracle Think Tank》 vanguard, all players
may draw a card.

Skull Witch, Nemain
Grade 2/Ability: Intercept
Power 3000/Shield 5000/Clan: Shadow Paladin
Auto: [Counterblast (1), Choose a
«Shadow Paladin» from your hand, and
discard it] When this unit is placed on R, if
you have a «Shadow Paladin» vanguard,
you may pay the cost. If you do, draw two
Now, which of these cards is better? Dark Cat only lets you draw one card while Nemain lets you draw two, but Nemain also requires you to discard a card, so functionally they both let you draw one.

Careful readers will note however, Dark Cat also lets the opponent draw a card. While Dark Cat's continued presence on the field is valuable, the total advantage of both fighters is 1 because you both drew. Nemain likewise remains on the field, so even with her you get one extra card, meaning that in terms of direct advantage, neither card is better. Both of them have the same shield (for guarding) but Dark Cat has more power, so wouldn't he be the better card?

If we examine their abilities though, Dark Cat has boost, meaning in the back row he can add his power to the unit in front of him when that unit attacks. Nemain has intercept, so she can be called to the guardian circle even if she's been put on the field, as long as she's in the front row. This intercept makes Nemain the better unit even though they both give the same advantage, because you gained an extra card and 5000 extra shield by playing her--arguably, as long as you discard a card with no shield for her skill and then draw a card with a shield score, you've just gained that much in defense. Nemain also does not put any cards in the opponent's hand, furthering her leg up over Cat.

Your next question may very well be "Well, why not use them both?" and that brings me to our next subject, an element of synergy.

Clan defines the army that your unit belongs to. Each army belongs to a nation, but these are only important to the storyline, not to the gameplay. For example, the original four clans were Royal Paladin, Kagerou, Nova Grappler and Oracle Think Tank. Generally speaking, each clan will be good in at least two subjects and have minor skills that let them do other things on the side. Royal Paladins are good at calling specific units from the deck and moving power around by either gaining power from units or giving it to others. Kagerou are good at retiring the opponent's units and then getting power from those retires. Nova Grapplers are good at standing their units after they have attacked to make a second attack, as well as unflipping damage. (In Cardfight, you can take up to five damage from the opponent's attacks--when you take six, you lose. Your damage is also used to pay for skills by "counterblasting," flipping over damage, so Nova Grappler can use all five of their damage for counterblasts and then completely unflip the zone.) Oracle Think Tank is good at drawing cards and "predicting the future," by looking at the top card of the deck to see what they're going to draw next, if it's a trigger, and if they want to put it on the bottom of the deck with a skill.

These are just a few examples. There are many, many more clans than this, and new ones are made each year to create diverse play styles to suit anyone. One pressing question new players have is how many different clans they should integrate into their deck. I recommend using one; professional Cardfight is not about combining the best cards from different clans, but instead about finding a clan that suits you and perfecting its play style. All clans are equal, each come with their own strengths and weaknesses, and while a clan can be overwhelmingly good in two areas, none of them can be perfect in all. Kagerou can form a strong defense and control the field, but cannot touch your hand and has trouble with key units from the other clans like Oracle's Silent Tom and RoPala's Alfred.

In the Dark Cat and Nemain example, both cards require that the cardfighter playing them have a vanguard of the same clan. Because you can normally only ride once each turn, it's difficult to change vanguards to make use of multiple skills, so it's best to drop the idea of using multiple clans and instead stick with just one.

Clan is further restricted by trigger units and perfect defense cards. Trigger units can only be activated when you have a unit of the same clan as the trigger on the field. So you could apply it to any unit once activated, but to activate the trigger you still need to have a unit of that clan. Perfect defense cards are grade 1s with 0 shield that, when called to the guardian circle, allow you to drop one card to completely nullify any one attack. They can only defend units of the same clan as them, so an Oracle Think Tank cardfighter could not call Wyvern Guard, Barri to the guardian circle. You'll have no trouble with either of these if you use a signle clan, however.

"Winning Image:" The Axis of the Deck
Now that many of the fundamentals are out of the way, let's decide the axis of our deck. By determining one card to be the central focus of your deck, you can then choose units based on how well they support that axis. Most of these axis cards will be grade 3s because those are the cards that the game is typically ended with, but in some cases there are cards like Blaster Blade (grade 2) or Battleraizer (grade 0) that can determine a deck's entire composition. In our example, let's say that I've been watching the anime and that I decided that the Nova Grapplers resonate with me. After some research, I find this card;
Stern Blaukluger
Grade 3/Ability: Twin Drive
Power 10000/No Shield/Clan: Nova Grappler
Continuous【V】 : If you have a「Blaukluger
in your soul, this unit gets +1000 power.
Auto【V】: [Counterblast (2), choose two
«Nova Grappler» from your hand, and
discard them] When this unit's attack hits a
vanguard, you may pay the cost. If you do, all
units on the same column as this unit, stand,
and this unit loses "Twin Drive!!".
I decide to make Stern Blaukluger the axis of my Nova Grappler deck. First, let's figure out all that we can just from observing Stern Blaukluger's card.
  1. Stern has the "twin drive" ability. This is an ability that most grade 3s have by default, and unlike with boost and intercept, it is only active in the vanguard circle. With twin drive, you can drive check two cards instead of one, letting you try for a trigger twice. This is naturally good for ending the game, as you can get a lot of power in one go if you get lucky, and it forces the opponent to guard for more power than you actually have, for fear of you getting two triggers.
  2. Normally, Stern has 10000 power. If Blaukluger is in its soul (the area under the vanguard card; this contains the cards that you've ridden on previous turns or "soulcharged," moved into your soul) then Stern has 11000 power, and because it's a continuous skill, this is active on both players' turns. So if Blaukluger is in the soul and the opponent attacks Stern with a unit that has 15000 power, it only takes 5000 shield to stop the attack instead of the 10000 shield it would take without Blaukluger. 
  3. When Stern's attack hits a vanguard, he can counterblast 2 and discard 2 Nova Grapplers to stand his entire column. Unlike with a stand trigger (which could only stand the rearguard), this lets the vanguard attack and drive check again, and it lets him attack at full power with his rearguard's boost. However, because Stern loses twin drive, he can only drive check once on his second attack, so taking into account that he has to discard 2 to stand, the player using the skill will lose one card total.
That 1000 is a big difference, so we'll want to include Blaukluger in the deck. Having looked up Blaukluger, I find that I can search him from the deck using two cards; Blaujunger (Grade 0, an FVG) and Blaupanzer (Grade 1.) When you ride Blaupanzer over Blaujunger, you can add Blaukluger to your hand to prepare for Stern; on top of that, calling a rearguard Blaupanzer lets you discard a grade 3 Nova Grappler to add Stern to the hand, and each card in the Blau series gains power from having its predecessor in the soul.
Since I want to get Blaukluger no matter what, but Blaupanzer adds him to my hand automatically, I'll need to run as many Blaupanzer as possible. (That's four Blaupanzer, according to the second rule of deckbuilding.) Blaukluger has no use in the rearguard though, so I'll only include two of him--the reason I use two instead of one is that I gain a one card advantage by riding Panzer and adding Kluger to my hand, so I want to ensure that I don't get stuck with my only Kluger in my opening hand.

I also find Dancing Wolf, a Nova Grappler grade 1 with 7000 power that gains +3000 power when he stands during the battle phase. Since Stern stands the entire column, by combining Blaujunger, Blaupanzer, Blaukluger, Stern Blaukluger and Dancing Wolf in a five-card combo spread out across the entire game, I can have Stern attack once for 18000 power and then a second time for 21000. Already we can see our deck taking shape;
Grade 0
x1 Blaujunger (FVG)
Grade 1
x4 Blaupanzer
x4 Dancing Wolf
Grade 2
x2 Blaukluger
Grade 3
x4 Stern Blaukluger
Already, we have fifteen cards of our fifty card deck decided. We also know that we need exactly sixteen triggers--four of them will be heal triggers. Heal triggers are essential to playing the game, because they heal your damage when you check them while having more than or equal to damage to your opponent. If you heal a counterblasted damage, that's the same as unflipping, and no matter what you heal you can take one more damage from the opponent's attacks before losing.

Draw triggers meanwhile, let you draw a card when you drive or damage check them. That's a one-card advantage that came out of nowhere, and it's perfect during a damage check since you get to add +5000 power to your vanguard from the trigger, while also reinforcing your hand. Critical triggers deal one extra damage on the unit that you give a critical to, so they're vital for the battle phase. Stand triggers let you stand one rested unit, so they're also important to the battle phase, as most opponents prepare for three attacks in a turn, not four (or five, as Stern would have it!)

Both heal and draw triggers are essential for survival, while critical triggers give you an edge against the opponent and end the game more quickly, and stand triggers hurt your opponent's hand by forcing them to guard against your attacks a second time. Taking all this into account, we can add sixteen new cards to our deck;
Grade 0
x1 Blaujunger (FVG)
x4 Wall Boy (Heal Trigger/HT)
x4 Three Minutes (Draw Trigger/DT)
x3 Red Lightning (Critical Trigger/CT)
x4 Battleraizer (Stand Trigger/ST)
x1 Lucky Girl (Stand Trigger/ST)
Grade 1
x4 Blaupanzer
x4 Dancing Wolf
Grade 2
x2 Blaukluger
Grade 3
x4 Stern Blaukluger
Now, we have 31 cards in our deck filled and just 19 left to go. I mentioned perfect defense cards before--no matter what, no attack launched against a perfect defense can break it. As such, this could stop Stern Blaukluger in his tracks, and any other high-power attack or attached skills. We'll want these to defend ourselves. We'll also need another grade 3 obviously, but we'll want one that can work in the rearguard; Nova Grappler has a couple cards good for this, but the ideal card to pick is Asura Kaiser. The reason for this is that while Asura Kaiser only has vanguard skills, he also has 11000 power, just like Stern, and his power is always active. That means that he can get by with as little as a 5000 power booster to reach 16000, enough to oppose other 11000 power units, and he makes a good alternative vanguard to Stern.
To combo with both Asura and Stern, I pick the Death Army series, Death Army Lady and Death Army Guy. These two units are designed to work together, and while they have lower power than normal, they will stand whenever you drive check a grade 3. This means that we can have one Stern row, one Death Army row, and one normal row; the normal row receives stand trigger, the Death Army row stands on its own when we get a grade 3, and the Stern (vanguard) row stands itself when its attack connects. At max we could have six attacks in one turn, by drive checking one stand trigger and one grade 3. For this normal row I use Nova Grappler's unskilled cards, sometime called vanilla units. These cards are shared (in terms of stats) between all complete clans--grade 2s of this type have 10000 power and grade 1s have 8000 power, and none of them have skills. So now our deck looks like;
Grade 0
x1 Blaujunger (FVG)
x4 Wall Boy (Heal Trigger/HT)
x4 Three Minutes (Draw Trigger/DT)
x3 Red Lightning (Critical Trigger/CT)
x4 Battleraizer (Stand Trigger/ST)
x1 Lucky Girl (Stand Trigger/ST)
Grade 1
x4 Blaupanzer
x4 Dancing Wolf
x3 Twin Blader (Perfect Defense)
x4 Death Army Guy
Grade 2
x2 Blaukluger
x4 Death Army Lady
x4 King of Sword
Grade 3
x4 Stern Blaukluger
x4 Asura Kaiser
And there we have it, all fifty cards! Picking an axis for your deck greatly expedites the process of deckbuilding, and will generally give you more consistent results than just picking whatever looks strong. Like with Stern and his support cards, many grade 3s make the most of their skills when supported by rearguards designed for them--Soul Saver Dragon and Pongal, Tyrant Deathrex and Dragon Egg--these units should be, along with your FVG of choice, among the first cards placed in a deck.
As I showed, this winning image brings your strategy together, as most cards do not stand on their own but instead stand together. While there are certainly exceptions like Oracle Guardian Apollon, who can be brought into any deck and doesn't rely on specific clan skills, this is the ultimate core of Vanguard's strategy. Cardfight is not a game of which cards are the strongest; it's a game of making the best of a particular strategy. While it is possible to combine Blazing Flare Dragon and Dragonic Overlord The End, a deck which focuses on one of them in particular and plays those cards to the best of its ability will always do better than a deck which clumsily attempts to unite these.
Normally, I recommend that new players start by watching the anime and reading the manga, then figuring out for themselves which clan suits them the best. There really is no greater satisfaction than building your own deck using packs, rather than just modifying a trial deck.

However, for those that just can't wait to start the game, I would recommend the third, fourth or seventh trial decks, as they have the best grade ratios for beginners and a plethora of units with skills that combo well to teach new cardfighters how to make the most of their units. These decks are also more fun than the first, second, fifth and sixth decks. While they do not have a word on their English release dates, the Nova Grappler and Oracle Think Tank extra boosters 4 and 5 "Infinite Phantom Legion" and "Celestial Valkyries" are thought to eventually receive an EN release, and their corresponding trial decks are already on teh shelves. In the meantime, get a feel for the clans through the anime and manga, and try playing online to practice.

I will state right now that your clan is not Royal Paladin, Gold Paladin, Kagerou or Narukami. Too many new players make the mistake of thinking that this is in some way their "destined" clan based on a trial deck they bought at Wal-mart; the novelty of being Aichi or Kai wears off. These clans are very easy to autopilot and their maneuvers are telegraphed a mile away. As trial decks they make good entry-level ways to learn the game, but it can take up to a year or more to figure out which clan you truly have the most affinity with and skill playing at, and all four of these clans are extremely expensive trust fund clans that take a lot of monetary investment to play. You do not want to wind up having spent $400 (a low number by these clans' reckoning) only to discover that Oracle Think Tank, Great Nature or Aqua Force is your real calling. Whether or not you are actively enjoying the cards that you are using is an enormous factor in your ability to hang with the game and persevere into the professional scene.
As I stated before, Cardfight is balanced on a competitive level, and despite the rampant talk of tiers and claims that one clan or another is garbage that is pervading forums today, any deck can take a national or international title. One of the more enduring examples of this is Rikino Sakura, the current junior National Champion for Japan, who has maintained her title for two consecutive years; while in 2011 she used a highly popular Goku-based Kagerou deck, after using the equally-championed The End deck to break past the 2012 qualifiers, she actually took the title by switching to a completely unproven CoCo-based Oracle Think Tank build that made her the first cardfighter in history to maintain a title over multiple years. In fact, Rikino holds more titles than any other cardfighter in history as a direct result of this change, and she was able to deeply upset the existing concept of what made a "good" deck as a result. Consider the clans available carefully, test your affinity for them online, and make your choice only after careful forethought and planning for the future.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Card Art: BT04/025 Fullbau

Illustration: Ryuutetsu
Design: Itou Akira
Rarity: R
If Vanguard could be said to have a clan that was planned from the ground up, the Shadow Paladins would be it. Not just in terms of skills, but also in their design, the cards in this series were each planned to work together as an artistic whole and form an ongoing narrative with their Royal Paladin counterparts. Fullbau is intended as the starting point for anyone viewing the Shadow Paladin's narrative, just as it's the starting point for any ShadowPala cardfighter. In terms of body language, the highdog is crouched low to the ground and has his tail curled in toward his legs. Dogs use this as a defensive posture, indicating that he's on the verge of attack.

The color palette is like most Paladin works reliant on cold colors, primarily blue and black. As covered in our article on Ryuutetsu's Blaster Blade, blue in Asian cultures and especially Japan is associated with evil and mysterious forces. The color black amplifies the association, because of how both colors were used in kabuki's stylized costumes to symbolize villainy and jealousy. While either of them could exist alone as blue does on Blaster Blade, when together on one character the depiction is very black and white. The color red is splashed behind Fullbau's paw to highlight the danger that he poses, and to stress the emphasis on his crouched, aggressive posture that is just at the moment before he lunges.

The main line of Shadow Paladin artworks feature an ongoing story as told through their civil war with the Royals. Fullbau starts this narrative descending from the base of a stair, showing both that the viewer is fighting an uphill battle against him and asking them to look up in the same moment to where else the stair leads. The next card in the series is Blaster Javelin, who is descending the middle of the stair, and the final card is Blaster Dark, who stands at the top of it. These three artworks, all made by Ryuutetsu with Itou's direction, are undeniably connected by the continuing theme of a stair, which is inherited from Itou's use of the structure in depicting Blaster Blade. While for Blade this stair was a metaphorical pedestal that accents his righteous position, among the Shadow Paladins it symbolizes the escalation of power between members and the enduring loyalty of each character to the next in line.

Fullbau's lore, translated by NeoArkadia;
"A High Dog in black armor that reminds one of darkness. It always accompanies the black Blasters, running to them if it senses even a hint of its masters. It is despised as it is associated with misfortune, as it is said it has appeared in practically every war that has ever occurred."

Citations and External Links

Main article, posture and stair commentary by Touya. Color commentary by Wolthera. Lore translation by NeoArkadia.
View this painting on the artist's personal gallery.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Card Art: BT01/002 Blaster Blade

Illustration: Ryuutetsu
Design: Itou Akira
Rarity: RRR
Representing the earliest known join venture between Ryuutetsu and Itou Akira, Ryuutetsu's Blaster Blade provides one of the first looks into Cray, the United Sanctuary and the hero himself. As with many of his Paladin works, the primary color feature is blue. Blue carries a double meaning in Cardfight. Coming out of Japanese kabuki, blue primarily symbolizes mystery and evil, and is reserved for spirits and wizards. While that certainly fits its role with the Shadow Paladins, in this context the color is taken as the color of France from where the term "paladin" originates, and with Aichi. Blaster Blade's art also works in the more typical red that would be associated with passion and heroism, integrating a familiar element of the righteous.

The sky is always important to Ryuutetsu's art. It is never left empty. Here we see a clear and unclouded early morning, with a slight aura around Blade creating an effect where the dawn appears to rise up with him. The sun hangs far outside the frame, but its presence is felt throughout as it can be seen rebounding off the windows of the United Sanctuary and off of Blaster Blade's armor. Warm brush strokes on the fringes of the painting further give the impression of the sun's presence, while also providing a sense of motion and heroic action on Blaster Blade's part.

Finally, the lore used in the creation of Blaster Blade, translated by NeoArkadia;

"An elite knight of the standing army, the "Royal Paladins", of the Holy Nation of "United Sanctuary". He is a close friend and confidante to the great King of Knights, Alfred. Capable of drawing out the full potential of the powers of the sword-type weapon "Blaster Blade", which can turn "courage" into "power", and the only of the knights capable of doing so, he shares the name of the weapon he himself carries."

Citations and External Links
Main article and sky commentary by Touya. Color and country commentary by Wolthera. Lore translation by NeoArkadia.
View this painting on the artist's gallery.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Artist Profile: Ryuutetsu/竜徹

His previous twitter icon, Eclair.
Real Name: Unknown
Handle: Ryuutetsu/竜徹
Sex: Male
Birthday: July 12, 1982
Galleries: Grows, pixiv
Ryuutetsu is one of the original artists to work on Cardfight!! Vanguard, having been on board with the project since at least 20101. His artwork has grown to be some of the most prolific in the series, being featured prominently on both high and low-rarity cards. As a professional artist, Ryuutetsu works primarily with Photoshop CS5 and Painter 9 to create his digital paintings. His work makes use of complex cloud features, using the weather to reflect the mood of the painting.

Another of Ryuutetsu's signatures is his application of the Dutch angle to communicate tension and action inside the same painting. Ryuutetsu works primarily inside a cold palette, using warm colors only sparingly to highlight key features. One noted weakness of his art is his difficulty with darker illustration; as his Meteobreak Wizard shows, Ryuutetsu struggles to convey settings with limited light sources. Some of his more recent work with Eclair and Vermillion feature more complex lighting, showing a gradual development toward overcoming this weak point.

TD01/012 Stardust Trumpeter
BT01/002 Blaster Blade - with Itou Akira
BT01/054 Rick the Ghostie
BT02/078 Megacolony Battler A
TD04/003 Meteobreak Wizard
BT03/045 Hades Puppet Master
BT04/025 Fullbau - with Itou Akira
BT04/045 Blaster Javelin - with Itou Akira
BT04/024 Blaster Dark - with Itou Akira
BT04/060 Darkside Trumpeter
BT05/028 Stealth Dragon, Voidgelga
BT05/003 Star Call Trumpeter
TD05/008 Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth
TD06/004 Thunderstorm Dragoon
TD06/008 Red River Dragoon
BT06/006 Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion
BT06/077 Gigantech Crusher
BT07/096 Battle Sister, Eclair
TD07/005 Marine General of Sea Roar, Argos
BT07/017 Blade Wing Reijy

Citations and External Links

1. "Bushiroad Tokyo Toy Show 2010 Exhibition." Bushiroad Inc.. Bushiroad, 30 June 2011. Web. 15 Aug. 2012. <>. 
Main article, sky commentary and research by Touya. Angle, color and lighting commentary by Wolthera.
See Ryuutetsu's personal gallery.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wingal: New Life into an Old Combo

By rawritzrichii, seek consent before reposting.
At release, Wingal was a card that was run sparingly, and avoided altogether if possible. Alternate artwork variants from the original trial deck would find a brief place with cardfighters of February 2011, if only because there were no other grade 1s to replace him with. He had a neat combo with Starlight Unicorn that allowed him to boost Blaster Blade for 21000 power, but it only worked twice in a fight at most, and most people would prefer Blaster Blade as their vanguard to prepare for Gancelot. Some cardfighters wised up to the mixed-clan rules more quickly and substituted him with Bahr, but otherwise Wingal was a card that came and went.

His combo was replicated countless times, but with the exception of Nightmare Baby was by and large sidelined for more versatile units with 7000 and higher power. In set 4 his darker counterpart Doranbau manifested, and much to Wingal's woe this copy was vastly improved by two factors; first, with Blaster Dark as the vanguard Doranbau could create a line that swung for 20000 total power, enough to pressure all but Genocide Jack and Cannongear. If by some chance a ShadowPala cardfighter were stuck at grade 2 for another turn, Doranbau made the fight much more survivable and boosted their odds of living to see grade 3. Second, Doranbau was an ideal sacrifice for Phantom Blaster Dragon, as at the time of set 4's release Dark and Blaster Dragon rides were typically sandwiched together rather than spread apart by several turns as The Dark Dictator or Ildona.

These days the original High Dog is seeing a comeback. Ironically for one of the most ignored units of past sets, Wingal is only getting stronger with age. With a plethora of deck-searching cards that can bring out both Blaster units and High Beasts, particularly Star Call Trumpeter and Akane, bringing a Blaster Blade and Wingal together is easier than ever. And the chief demand to have these two on the frontlines is the much-maligned crossride, 13000 power units that can shrug away typical 16000-power lines with a single draw trigger. Blaster Blade and Wingal now strike just 1000 power above what's needed to force a full 10000-power guard from these vanguards, and unlike Doranbau, Wingal can be brought out through deck searching and attacked with on the same turn. (Doranbau can be searched by Macha, but he can only be called to the circle behind her and so unless Macha is immediately retired by Blaster Dragon and replaced by a rearguard Dark, Doranbau will just create a usually-undesirable 14000 power line.)

Similar revivals from other clans are facing varying success. Nightmare Baby has already fallen out of favor due to Blue Dust being outmoded by Emblem Master; Queen of Heart managed to survive until the third set for the same initial reasoning as Doranbau, but was mostly replaced by the Death Army series due to their combo with Asura Kaiser, and then Dancing Wolf for having a more consistent 10000-boost that works with both Asura Kaiser and Azure Dragon. Doranbau has always been around but is now finding professional favor once more, as the release of Dordona in extra booster 3 gives him another grade 2 that he can at the least reach 16000 with for use on non-crossride units. Counting Masquerade for Blaster Overlord decks, Doranbau can form an 18000 line, giving him some degree of flexibility comparable with the original. All of these however, are missing Wingal's fundamental compatibility with Akane and RoPala's general ability to call any part of the formation with cards like Alfred and Star Call. Later releases have replaced these types of boosters altogether with 11000-power base 6000 boosters like Charjgal and Feather Penguin, but their soulblast cost misses some of the original's appeal as a free boost. It's an interesting revival to observe, and while these cards will mostly only see Apocalypse Bat-style play being run in x2 rather than the straight-up x4 that base 8000 units get, the mere fact that old cards are seeing increasing play in the new format is promising.