Friday, August 10, 2012

Alfred's Place vs Crossride: The "Fifth Marron"

By rawritzrichii, seek consent before reposting.

One of the topics that has saturated discussion of late is why the King of Knights, Alfred, a card from Cardfight's very first booster set first released in March of last year, can best The End, an effective prototype of grade 4 released a year later in January of 2012. The simple answer is that he was designed to. The long answer;

The King of Knights owes his place to a literal army of support all geared toward forming anti-crossride lines. The first play style Royal Paladin adhered to, once known as the Royal Paladin deck back in the first set, has developed into an anti-crossride deck. First, it needs to be established that all crossride units are assumed to have 13000 power at all times, as they were designed to. Alfred counters this by his inability to be boosted and the skill that comes as a trade-off of that--passively gaining +2000 power may not seem like much when 20000 is no longer high enough to force out more than 10000 power in shield from the opponent, but 20000 is not the important number in this scenario. The important number is 18000, which is functionally the same but has an interesting loophole to it; Alfred will always have 18000 power on-attack so long as there are four Royal Paladin rearguards out. Unlike with other 10000-power grade 3s, Alfred does not need Marron's boost to reach this number, and even unlike 11000-power grade 3s, Alfred does not need a 7000 boost to reach this number. Stating the obvious reveals something powerful about the King of Knights; he does not need to call a unit to force one 10000 shield out of a crossride.

Not needing a circle is a crucial advantage. One of the primary management problems with Vanguard is keeping all of the rearguard circles filled for full-power attacks while also being able to defend on the opponent's turn with at least a five or six card hand. Let's consider all of the units with The End-type skills;
  1. Dragonic Overlord. Counterblast 3, can only stand when his attack hits a rearguard, functions in both the vanguard and the rearguard, and he loses twin drive when he activates. Because he loses Twin Drive on the first attack, Overlord can only get a minimum of one extra card in hand before factoring in draw triggers. However, because he only stands when he hits a rearguard, at a maximum he can remove two of the opponent's cards from the field, giving his cardfighter an overall three card lead before the opponent guards their vanguard.
  2. Stern Blaukruger. Counterblast 2, can only stand when his attack hits a vanguard, functions only in the vanguard but also stands the rest of the cards in his column, and he loses twin drive when he stands. Stern requires two cards to be dropped to use his skill, meaning that no extra cards whatsoever will be gained with him, and instead he forces his user to lose one card.. Because his skill only activates versus a vanguard, he also cannot give any lead unless the opponent guards and he drive checks a trigger.
  3. Commander Laurel. Not a unit that does this himself, but when you have him in the rearguard you can rest four Dimension Police rearguards after your Dimension Police vanguard's attack hits, to stand your vanguard once more. This is an immediate two-card gain, so even though it weakens one turn, it gives an advantage that's just a little under Overlord after two rearguards have been retired.
  4. Dragonic Overlord The End. Counterblast 2, can only stand when his attack hits, functions only in the vanguard, does not lose twin drive. The End does not feature the same power bonus as Overlord, but has the advantage of the Flame of Promise's 10000-power boost to get his initial attack through; because The End requires another copy of himself to be discarded with each attack, he has a similar net gain to the original Overlord (unless his skill goes off twice and removes both of the rearguards) for a total of two extra cards and a four card lead overall. His skill is harder to get through without triggers on the second attack and beyond because he can only strike for 13000 instead of 16000.
  5. Spectral Duke Dragon. Counterblast 2, can stand regardless of whether or not his attack hits but the attack must have been on a vanguard, functions only in the vanguard, and he loses twin drive when he stands. Additionally, Duke Dragon must retire three rearguards to use the skill. Because of this, he is the only card in this skill family to take two cards away after his drive check is resolved. (This is supposed to be compensated for with the Vortimer line skills, which if fully successful still leaves the user with a one card advantage, and if only one skill in the chain fails the loss is at least nullified.) Like Overlord and Stern Blaukruger, Duke Dragon is an 11000-power unit, which makes his second attack just as difficult to bring through as The End's without a second twin drive to compensate, but has the advantage of not needing to hit.
So where does Alfred fit into this equation? At a maximum, these units can give their users' two extra cards. Except for Laurel and Stern, this is in normal circumstances cut down to just one. The End and Laurel get their advantage by doing a second twin drive. Overlord achieves it with his third drive check, which more typically gets guarded beforehand because without triggers he's now at 16000 instead of 21000 or above as in his first check. Alfred does not have a standing skill, but because one circle is supposed to be left empty with him, against crossride units he just gained a hidden advantage. Not needing to use a card means that it stays in hand for guarding, so Alfred can now operate as though he called that unit without actually doing so. His skill gives him an "invisible Marron" that for all intents and purposes, may as well exist on the field. It can even be targeted by retire skills--removing any other unit on the field will bump his boost down to 16000, which to a cross ride is a single 5000-shield guard. The King of Knights has just put a unit onto the field that does not exist anywhere in the hand or deck. (Keep in mind that this advantage exists versus both crossride and base 11000 units, the only situations where the conditions are correct for Alfred to need 18000 instead of 20000 power.) In this way, Alfred gives a fifth Marron to the deck, reaching a power level that's otherwise usually out of reach.

So having established that Alfred has an invisible Marron that gives him the same breathing room that card advantage confers, the math for the next part is easy. 18000 is the new number for crossrides, because trying to reach 23000 without triggers is getting ahead of how the current game works. Gotou Kiyomi used Wingal Brave as his first vanguard, seemingly because it's the only FVG other than the considerably weaker Brugal that RoyPala currently has to work with. The argument is open that, with only Blaster Blade to boost and search for in the deck, Kiyomi would eventually have to retire Brave to make way for other units anyway, or otherwise relegate him to the circle where Alfred's invisible Marron would sit regardless, giving no real impact on the fight. What should be paid attention to here is not Brave's search skill, however; it's his power.

Wingal Brave is the first RoyPala FVG to operate on 5000 power. This is why he would go into a rearguard circle other than one where Blaster Blade would fall. Another key card for both Gotou and countless other RoyPala cardfighters is the Swordsman of the Explosive Flames, Palamedes, a base 10000 grade 3 now infamously regarded as a mistake that receives +3000 power too easily. While this idea is much newer than most cardfighters seem to think, for now assume a scenario with Palamedes in the rearguard and Alfred in the vanguard circle. Palamedes' skill would activate automatically, and if lined up with Wingal Brave, would then hit the 18000 marker. Wingal Brave is free of course, and Alfred can counterblast 3 at any time during his turn to call a grade 2 or less Royal Paladin, meaning that Palamedes is one of just two cards that needs to be called to set up an anti-crossride formation. The other card that has to be called is either Marron, Gallatin, Lamorak or one more Palamedes depending on which of them is in the fighter's hand. With Alfred's skill, either of those initial three can then fill the remaining circle, creating three 18000 lines that will always be at 18000.

This type of 18000-line formation can be extremely difficult for other clans to manage consistently, but for Royal Paladin and Alfred in particular, it is one of the easiest attacks to mount. RoyPala is one of three clans with multiple 10000-power grade 2s, so between those, Palamedes and the remaining Alfreds, making this formation is child's play because Marron can be easily brought out by Alfred, and as said Wingal Brave fills the only other column in need of a booster. Between Wingal Brave, the invisible Marron and Alfred's superior call, that's a three-card advantage overall with only one counterblast activated. At this point it's just a matter of defending that formation or re-calling any part of it that falls victim to retire. Factoring in Toypugal's boost (which follows the same conditions as Palamedes) as a Marron substitute, and the numbers are being moved around in such a way that it's akin to having not just a fifth Marron in the deck, but one extra Marron for each Palamedes, Toypugal and Alfred included.

This is the final quality that makes Alfred ideal as the definitive anti-crossride deck; the King of Knights is tenacious. The deck is not about making any single big move, but about attacking again and again with the same just-powerful-enough tactics to last through many turns. Once the formation is put together, guarding is the only thing that needs to be done. The deck is more consistent than Soul Saver Dragon because its intended strategy will happen every turn rather than on just one, and it's a sign of planned balance between the cards. Unlike Nova Grappler and Oracle Think Tank, there is no need to release new cards to catch RoyPala up with the fresh crossrides like Great Daiyusha and the coming Cosmolord upgrade; Royal Paladin has had the majority of the tools that they need to combat these units since August of last year, when Demonic Lord Invasion was first released. And the established way to defeat an Alfred deck is with Goku, so in the future we may even see the return of Cardfight's first ever competitive deck. The post-crossride format is one where every existing deck type has its niche; it's a beautiful world we've come into.