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.