Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spotlight: Horikawa Eiki/堀川詠生

Fighter's Spotlight is an ongoing project concerned with tracking real-world professional cardfighters across the globe.

Horikawa Eiki/堀川詠生
Age: Juniors Division; Exact age unknown, 9 years old in August 2010
Titles Won: Kanazawa Trio Battle Runner-up (Fighter's Road 2012 National Championship), Osaka Regional Finalist Third Place (Junior Class)
Current Status: Osaka Regional Finalist Third Place (Junior Class, Summer 2012)
Deck Type: Royal Paladin (Majesty Lord Blaster), Oracle Think Tank (Scarlet Witch, CoCo)
Horikawa Eiki is the third place fighter for the Fighter's Road 2012 Junior Osaka tournament, who was unable to qualify for the national championship over Ushinohama Tetsuya and Yokoyama Yoshiya. Interestingly, this was by all appearances not Horikawa's debut in the pro scene; he was previously a participant from the Kanazawa Regional Trio Battle's runner-up team. Before this, Horikawa had an established background in card games, being the 2010 junior national champion in the Pokémon Trading Card game, and he had appeared on the Pokémon Sunday TV program along with several other members of the 2010 Japanese junior team before then.
Horikawa's brief TV appearance.

Decks and Play Style
Horikawa used a Majesty Lord Blaster deck at his debut, working alongside Nova Grappler and Gold Paladin teammates. His particular build was notable for featuring two copies of Wingal Brave, likely as a counter to the dominant Dragonic Overlord The End decks of the time, which could retire the card freely with Gatling Claw Dragon. The second copy was mainly accessible with either Alfred or Akane, and room was made for it by cutting the grade 3 count down from the more standard 8 to 7. Since Majesty was searchable through Brave in the first place, this made sense as a means of pressuring the opponent to stop even weak attacks while also aiding his strategy's longevity over the course of a game.

Summer 2012 Regional Tournament, Kanazawa Trio Battle
Card Pool: Card Pool: TD01-EB03, PR 0001-0066
Grade 0
x1 Future Knight, Llew CT
x4 Yggdrasil Maiden, Elaine HT
x4 Margal DT
x3 Alabaster Owl CT
x2 Wingal Brave (FVG)
x4 Bringer of Good Luck, Epona CT
Grade 1
x4 Flash Shield, Iseult
x4 Little Sage, Marron
x1 Lake Maiden, Lien
x4 Toypugal
x1 Knight of Friendship, Kay
Grade 2
x4 Blaster Blade
x1 High Dog Breeder, Akane
x4 Blaster Dark
x2 Starcall Trumpeter
Grade 3
x2 King of Knights, Alfred
x2 Swordsman of the Explosive Flames, Palamedes
x3 Majesty Lord Blaster

Horikawa was an early adopter of the witch deck, using the then-new Oracle Think Tank build as his Osaka deck. Osaka was in fact the witches' professional debut and it performed above expectations, with one deck placing in each age division, possibly serving as an eventual inspiration to Rikino. Horikawa chose to focus on the deck's battle potential, using the four-card increase in advantage from LuLu and CoCo to allow for an unprecedented twelve critical triggers, while Mocha, Silent Tom and Promise Daughter each functioned as additional pressure on any guards the opponent chose to make. Miss Mist and Apollon are taken as alternative single-card techniques to occasionally force the opponent into an unusual situation by stopping early damage altogether, or making them choose whether or not to give Horikawa one more card on top of his existing advantage by letting a lesser rearguard attack through.

The greatest flaw of Horikawa's deck that Rikino seemed to recognize over him was LaLa, whose on-call card change skill never did live up to the expectations that marketing hype put on her.

Summer 2012 Regional Tournament, Osaka Juniors Division
Card Pool: Card Pool: TD01-EB03, PR 0001-0066
Grade 0
x1 Little Witch, LuLu (FVG)
x4 Lozenge Magus HT
x4 Oracle Guardian, Nike CT
x4 Psychic Bird CT
x4 Battle Sister, Ginger CT
Grade 1
x4 Battle Sister, Chocolat
x4 Oracle Guardian, Gemini
x2 One Who Gazes at the Truth
x3 Emerald Witch, LaLa
x1 Weather Forecast, Miss Mist
Grade 2
x2 Battle Sister, Mocha
x3 Oracle Guardian, Wiseman
x4 Silent Tom
x2 Promise Daughter
Grade 3
x1 Oracle Guardian, Apollon
x4 Scarlet Witch, CoCo
x3 Goddess of Flower Divination, Sakuya

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Open versus Closed Games

In Cardfight, one of the main obstacles to winning a game is building and controlling the rearguard formation. Clans which make use of call skills have to play carefully to ensure that the card they called does not interfere with their current strategy, and if a poor line like two units whose sum power is 14000 versus an 10000-power opposing vanguard is set up, then fighters will usually have to voluntarily retire one or more parts of the formation to fix the line. This hurts card advantage, and to avoid it often requires careful planning from the very beginning of the match.

Broadly speaking, the concept of an open or closed game is a measure of how easily the rearguard formation can be modified or replaced, and it plays an important role in controlling the usefulness of a card. Gigantech Charger is a unit that is usually called to the rearguard--because of this, to use his skill to its full potential Charger has to be called with one open space in the backline and two in the front (one for him and one for any potential grade 0, 1, 2 or 3 he calls.) Because of this, Gigantech's presence in the hand effectively locks down three spaces from being used or otherwise encourages early intercepting, limiting how much offensive power a deck that uses him can claim at the early stages of the game, while handing control of a match's speed to the opponent. These factors are all rooted in the Royal Paladins playing a closed game; only a limited pool of units can be taken off the field once they touch it. So despite having a wider range of superior call skills than most clans, changing their formation enough for the increase in advantage to become meaningful is difficult.

Contrast Great Nature or Bermuda Triangle. Great Nature cards can be retired freely, with the Hamsuke series and Lox line adding replacement cards to the hand. While Leo-pald's limit break locks down the field somewhat, it also works with cards like Loop-the-Loop, Duckbill to increase advantage and make the field more open by taking the strain away from calling. Bermuda Triangle meanwhile, bounces rearguards back to the hand and has skills to call different rearguards mid-battle, rarely if ever playing with a fully-locked field.

Whether a clan is playing an open or closed game is critically important. Up until Spectral Duke Dragon's limit break opened it for them, the Gold Paladins played with an entirely closed field, due to their superior call skills requiring open rearguard circles. Cards put onto the field are still lost forever with Duke, but now the spaces that they occupy can be freed up once more. This is why Blackmane Witch is such a critical promo for the clan, because her skill allows the field to be rearranged freely in addition to giving Duke no bad opening ride. Similarly, Badhabh Catha is much more useful to the Shadow Paladins than Gigantech was to RoPala because it's possible to do a near-full field wipe at almost any time in the main phase, so those three spaces that Gigantech controlled for the Royals aren't an issue to the Shadows. Nemain would be a poor card to Duke Dragon, but is one of the best support cards Phantom Blaster has because she is geared for a clan that plays with a field that is reopened during the main phase rather than battle phase. By contrast, Viviane and Lop Ear Shooter would never function as well in ShadowPala as they do in GoPala, because they are designed for fields that open in the battle phase, and create repeating attacks or superior rides rather than fuel for another skill. If Bermuda Triangle were to receive its own Nemain, then the popularity of the deck would skyrocket because of the appeal of being able to recycle a superpowered Aermo-Dark Cat hybrid with Weddell, Perla, Flores or Raindear.

Of course, even among a given clan, how open or closed the game is can vary wildly between decks. Among Oracle Think Tank, the game is only open if the Goddess of Flower Divination, Sakuya is included to return called units to the hand. While Tsukuyomi's draw skill can certainly make up for the cards lost by retiring rearguards normally, it's more optimal for her to stack her skill on top of a well-prepared field. Amaterasu meanwhile, cannot afford to make mistakes regarding formation because she has difficulty replacing units without suffering a loss in advantage. This makes Dark Cat a critically important card for the latter two, because his draw skill makes him a free 7000-power booster and one card that will never have to be replaced from the back line. But to Sakuya, the Cat is not as useful because she plays with an open field in the first place, so reconfiguring boosting units is much easier to manage than in the other decks.

Among the Gold Paladins, Blond Ezel decks have only Garmore and Blackmane Witch to open their field, and even then Blackmane chiefly serves to compensate for the poor calls made by Viviane and similar units. Naturally, Spectral Duke Dragon decks have the titular Duke Dragon's field wipe to rely on as well as the Vortimer series, but because this field wipe can only happen in the battle phase and the previous cards have to be played in a specific sequence without missing beats, the skills have less utility than Blaster Dragon's. Royal Paladin has similar moves to change the formation around, with Pongal being freely replaceable for a counterblast 1, Alfred's counterblast 3 being able to call rearguards with no loss, and before his restriction Barcgal's superior ride sequence was also a part of this opening of the game. These limited reopenings are part of the clans' inherent advantages, with the limitations also being their weakness when compared to the aforementioned Bermuda Triangle and Shadow Paladin clans. Moreover, Pale Moon has what is likely the most open game in Cardfight, as their skills are universally oriented toward swapping units in and out of the soul, restructuring their formation at-will and even turning weaker rearguards into all-out attacks with soul-based power increases. Units like Jumping Glenn can be combined with Quantum Magician or Nightmare Doll, Alice to make them fit into either attacking or boosting roles based on the situation, that would otherwise be limited to units of particular grade. So Pale Moon's level of openness comes not just from being able to change the formation, but also from being able to squeeze otherwise-inappropriate cards into differing roles.

How open or closed a game is needs to be considered carefully when selecting or changing clans, and in approaching new deckbuilds of a given clan. A cardfighter that has just gone from Spectral Duke to Ezel may be surprised by how carefully they have to play, and a ThinkTank fighter changing from Tsukuyomi to Sakuya-Amaterasu will have to play in a fundamentally different manner to get the results that they are used to. In closing, make sure to account for this factor when developing your strategy, as no one wants to be caught off-guard by their own lack of or excess freedom.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Spotlight: Watanabe Hiroki/渡辺紘生

Fighter's Spotlight is an ongoing project concerned with tracking real-world professional cardfighters across the globe.

Watanabe Hiroki/渡辺紘生
Age: Unknown (Senior Class)
Titles Won: Nagoya Regional Champion (Fighter's Climax 2012)
Current Status: Nagoya Regional Champion (Reigning)
Deck Type: Kagerou (Dragonic Overlord The End)
Watanabe Hiroki is the first senior class cardfighter to be qualified for the Fighter's Climax national championship, and an advocate of the The End build. Entering with it despite the deck being disproven in both divisions of the previous championship, Watanabe remains an advocate for the crossride and a strong candidate for the senior title.

Decks and Play Style
While Watanabe's build, with its six-draw, six-critical trigger setup, certainly calls to mind Nakamura Seishirou's setup from the previous championship, Watanabe's is geared toward deception by including two different single-copy draw triggers, giving the illusion that he is running nine to twelve draw. Like many Kagerou cardfighters, Watanabe has coopted Nakamura's technique by including single-copy cards for Conroe to search the deck for, in this case the Flame of Hope to sift through his deck for extra copies of Dragonic Overlord The End, and Guard Gryphon for one-off defenses against Silent Tom and trigger-empowered rearguards. Dragon Monk, Gojo makes full use of the first turn when he takes it, while Berserk Dragon allows for field control and Burning Horn forms his main rearguard offense. Typical for a Kagerou fighter of the time, Watanabe uses a full eight grade 3s, four Dragonic Overlord and four The End so that even in the rearguard he can have difficult-to-assail 11000-power units and to maximize his odds of creating a 13000-power defense. Surprisingly the deck does not include the long-championed Raopia for vanguard support, but The End tends toward tenacity rather than raw power.

All of these are very safe elements of deckbuilding that have been tried and proven by cardfighters that came before him. However, Watanabe is missing a key element in his build; the national championship has not been won without innovation since Shitakawachi's time. Gotou Kiyomi and Rikino Sakura's decks were both left-field contenders that while interesting, were passed over in the days leading up to the finals as unlikely title candidates in favor of the deep influx The End decks. Gotou's Alfred deck was innovative for removing Soul Saver Dragon, Majesty Lord Blaster and all other heavy-hype candidates in favor of a deck that was designed to mow down crossride, while Rikino's CoCo build was considered inferior to Tsukuyomi until she proved how effective the deck could be. Even Masuda Yuusaku's 2011 deck had some innovation from the Galahad line, which many at the time had considered passing over for Stardust Trumpeter and the extra deck space they would make from not using the grade 1 and 2 forms of Galahad. In a highly diverse and developed pro scene, Watanabe is potentially too cautious compared to what he is potentially up against post-BT09.

Winter National Championship 2012, Seniors Division (Japan)
Card Pool: TD01-BT08, PR 0001-0079
Grade 0
x1 Lizard Soldier, Conroe (FVG)
x3 Embodiment of Speaer, Tahr CT
x1 Dragon Dancer, Monica DT
x4 Dragon Monk, Genjo HT
x4 Gatling Claw Dragon DT
x3 Blue Ray Dracokid CT
x1 Red Gem Carbuncle DT
Grade 1
x1 Flame of Hope, Aermo
x4 Wyvern Guard, Barri
x4 Embodiment of Armor, Bahr
x4 Dragon Monk, Gojo
x1 Guard Gryphon
Grade 2
x3 Berserk Dragon
x4 Burning Horn Dragon
x4 Cross Shot, Garp
Grade 3
x4 Dragonic Overlord
x4 Dragonic Overlord The End

Thursday, October 25, 2012

News: Shining Lion Platina Ezel, Other BT09/Promo Translations

(This space will be updated continuously to include new translations as they are completed)

With the release of the October 2012 issue of KeroKero Ace, the text of upcoming card releases from booster set 9: Rampage of the Knights and Dragons, as well as extra booster sets Infinite Phantom Legion and Celestial Valkyries is now available. My translations are provided below, with original text courtesy of kumacard.

Additionally, it has been revealed that volume 5 of the official Cardfight!! Vanguard manga will come with a manga-specific promo card, Excalpyte the Blaster. Up until now, The Blaster has been a manga exclusive, and his skills are being kept secret until release. Also, because the manga generally avoids using the card game's terminology (i.e. statements like "ACT: [Counterblast (2)]" are avoided) the skills can be difficult to interpret. This is the literal translation of his manga skills;
Excalpyte The Blaster
Grade 3/Power 12000/No Shield
  • Except for Blaster Blade, send every card in your soul to the drop zone.
  • For every card sent to the drop zone in this way, this unit gets Power +2000.
  • When this unit attacks, all other units are damaged.
  • At the end of the battle phase, send to the drop zone.
Based on the manga illustrations of Aichi's final fight, it appears that the intention of Excalpyte is that on-ride, he soulblasts every card in the soul except Blaster Blade, gains +2000 power for the turn for each card sent, gains +2000 power continuously for having a Blaster Blade in the soul (it is unlikely that the base 12000 power is intended to be taken at face value), attacks the entire front and back row similar to Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion's limit break, and at the end of the turn he is unridden by riding Blaster Blade from the soul and sending The Blaster to the drop zone. He is then intended as a temporary, one-turn transformation. From a design perspective, if the last skill in particular is the case, then it makes sense that he would require a particular card to be left in the soul, so that it can be ridden after The Blaster leaves the field. The real Excalpyte is currently known to be base 10000 and to have no shield. For reference, this is the original Japanese text of the manga card.
  • ソウルのブラスターブレードを除きすべてドロップゾーン送る
  • ドロップしたカード x 2000ポイントのパワーを得る
  • アタック時に相手のユニットすべてにダメージを与える
  • バトルフェイズ終了後ドロップゾーンえ送る
BT09: Clash of the Knights and Dragons
Gold Paladin
Shining Lion, Platina Ezel
Grade 3/Power 11000/No Shield
ACT [V] Limit Break 5 (This ability is active if you have five or more damage): [Counterblast (3)] Choose up to 5 of your <<Gold Paladin>> rearguards, and for this turn they receive Power +5000.
CONT [V] If you have a "Incandescent Lion, Blond Ezel" in your soul, this unit gets Power +2000.
CONT [V/R]: Leader (If you have a unit that is not of the same clan as this card, this unit cannot attack.)

(TL Note: The katakana reads as "Platina Ezel," with "Platina" being a loanword from Spanish meaning Platinum. "Splendorous" instead of Shining is also possible.)

Knight of Passion, Bagdemagus
Grade 2/Power 9000/Shield 5000
Auto [R]: When this unit attacks, if you have an "Ezel" vangaurd, then for that battle this unit gets Power +3000.

Sage of Dreams, Cron
Grade 0/Power 5000/Shield 10000
Auto: Harbinger (When you ride this unit with a unit of the same clan, you may move this unit to R.)
Activate [R]: [Counterblast (1), put this unit into the soul] Look at the top 5 cards of your deck, choose a card with "Ezel" in its name from among them, show it to the opponent, add it to your hand and shuffle that deck.

Nova Grappler
Super Beast Deity, Illuminal Dragon
Grade 3/Power 11000/No Shield
Auto [V] Limit Break 4 (This ability is active if you have four or more damage): [Counterblast (3)] When this unit attacks a vanguard, you may pay the cost. If you do so, choose two of your own cards with "Beast Deity" in their names and stand them.
Continuous [V]: When you have a card named "Beast Deity, Azure Dragon" in your soul, this unit gets Power +2000.
Continuous [V/R]: Leader (If you have a unit that is not of the same clan as this card, this unit cannot attack.)

Beast Deity, Drake of Yamato
Grade 3/Power 10000/No Shield
Auto [R]: When this unit stands during your battle phase, for that turn it gets Power +3000.

Beast Deity, Golden Anglet
Grade 2/Power 9000/5000 Shield
Auto [R]: When this unit stands during your battle phase for that turn it gets Power +3000.

Beast Deity, Blank Marsh
Grade 1/Power 7000/5000 Shield
Auto [R]: [Counterblast (1), move this unit to the soul] When this unit boosts a <<Nova Grappler>> in the battle phase, and the attack hits a vanguard, you may pay the cost. If you do so, choose up to one of your "Beast Deity" rearguards and stand it.

Grade 2/Power 7000/Shield 5000
Auto: When this unit is placed on V or R, you may reveal the top card of your deck. If that card is a grade 1 or 2 <<Nova Grappler>>, call it to R, then shuffle that deck.

Grade 1/Power 7000/Shield 5000

Activate [V/R]: [Counterblast (1)] This unit gets Power +1000 until the end of the turn.

Hollow Nomad
Grade 3/Power 10000/No Shield
Auto [V/R]: When this unit attacks a vanguard, if you have a <<Nova Grappler>> vanguard, then for that battle this unit gets Power +2000.

Heroic Hani
Grade 2/Power 8000/Shield 5000
Auto:[Counterblast (1)] When this unit is placed on V or R, if you have a <<Nova Grappler vanguard>>, you may pay the cost. If you do so, put the top of your deck to your damage zone, and at the beginning of your end phase, choose one card from your damage zone, return it to your deck, and shuffle that deck.

Stoic Hani
Grade 1/Power 6000/Shield 5000
Auto:[Counterblast (1)] When this unit is placed on V or R, if you have a <<Nova Grappler vanguard>>, you may pay the cost. If you do so, put the top of your deck to your damage zone, and at the beginning of your end phase, choose one card from your damage zone, return it to your deck, and shuffle that deck.

Angel Feather
Mobile Hospital, Elysium
Grade 3/Power 10000/No Shield
Auto [V]: [Choose up to one <<Angel Feather>> from your hand, discard it] When this unit attacks, you may pay the cost. If you do so, this unit gets Power +6000 for this turn.
Auto [R]: [Choose up to one <<Angel Feather>> from your hand, discard it] When this unit attacks, you may pay the cost. If you do so, this unit gets Power +3000 for this turn.

Covert Demon Dragon, Magatsu Storm
Grade 3/Power 10000/No Shield
Auto [V] Limit Break 4 (This ability is active if you have four or more damage): [Counterblast (3)] For this turn, this unit gets Power +3000, you may call from your deck up to 2 "Covert Demon Dragon, Magatsu Storm" to R, shuffle that deck, then at the end of the turn move any units called in this way to the bottom of your deck, in any order.
Continuous [V]: If you have a card named "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Gale" in your soul, this unit gets Power +1000.

(TL Note: Magatsu can mean "evil" and comes up in reference to evil gods, but the way that it's written here is like how "Kurama Lord" is written--it's most likely meant to be taken as Magatsu Storm and not Evil Storm. Persona fans will know it from Magatsu Inaba and Magatsu Izanagi)

Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Storm
Grade 2/Power 9000/Shield 5000
Continuous [V]: If you have a card named "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Breath" in your soul, this unit gets Power +1000.
Auto: When a card named "Covert Demon Dragon, Magatsu Storm" rides this unit, and you have a card named "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Breath" in your soul, you may call up to two "Covert Demon Dragon, Magatsu Storm" from your deck to separate R, shuffle that deck, then at the end of the turn move any units called in this way to the bottom of your deck, in any order.

Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Breath
Grade 1/Power 7000/Shield 5000
Continuous [V] If you have a card named "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Wind" in your soul, this unit gets Power +1000.
Auto: When a card named "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Gale" rides this unit, and you have a card named "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Wind" in your soul, you may call up to two "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Gale" from your deck to separate R, shuffle that deck, then at the end of the turn move nay units called in this way to the bottom of your deck, in any order.

Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Wind
Grade 0/Power 4000/Shield 5000
Auto: When a card named "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Gale" rides this unit, look at up to seven cards from the top of your deck, search for up to one "Cover Demon Dragon, Magatsu Storm" or "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Gale" from among them, reveal it to your opponent and shuffle your deck.
Auto: When a <<Murakumo>> other than "Stealth Dragon, Magatsu Breath" rides this unit, you may call this card to R.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spotlight: Nakagawa Yuuki/中川祐岐

Fighter's Spotlight is an ongoing project concerned with tracking real-world professional cardfighters across the globe.
Nakagawa Yuuki/中川祐岐
Age: Unknown (Junior Class)
Titles Won: Nagoya Regional Champion (Fighter's Climax 2012)
Current Status: Nagoya Regional Champion (Reigning)
Deck Type: Royal Paladin (Majesty Lord Blaster)
Nakagawa Yuuki is one of the first cardfighters to qualify in the Fighter's Climax 2012, the Winter tour of the 2012 Japanese national event. Nakagawa is a rising star among elementary cardfighters; due to his deck type's overall lack of presence in the Seniors division, the Junior class events are the primary tournaments in which it sees much use, and so Nakagawa is one of the only fighters currently in the running for the title representing the Blaster deck.

Decks and Play Style
Compared to contemporary builds, Nakagawa's deck places much heavier emphasis on critical triggers, numbering twelve of them in the entire list and even cutting one heal trigger so that these along with draw triggers could be fitted in. The deck is wholly devoted to its Blaster mechanic, with four Kay despite the benefit that extra Toypugals could have on his Palamedes, Bedivere and Starcall. Due to Wingal Brave being the only effective way to search for Majesty Lord Blaster, exploiting alternate search methods to gather the remaining two pieces of his skill is essential. The inclusion of a lone Gancelot allows for Blaster Blade to be effectively run in five copies, necessary for a deck where counterblast is reserved for a few occasional but very big moves with Starcall Trumpeter, to bring out the otherwise-difficult to grab Dark.

The deck uses only seven grade 3s, following a pattern of Nakagawa's time where Palamedes was generally run as a two-of staple rather than the three/four-of advocated by previous RoPala decks. This is to maximize the odds of getting out a first-turn ride with fifteen grade 1s, but also because Nakagawa seems to have put together his deck with the idea of repeating Majesty Lord Blaster's autoskill across multiple turns, and so having two frontline circles available would frequently benefit his high-pressure strategy. Unlike in 2011, running four perfect defense cards was very common throughout 2012, due to the rapid power acceleration of limit break and crossride units. Because of the ease with which a Blaster deck can set up its frontline formation, repeating that skill is a costly but sometimes worthwhile maneuver, and its setup can have a secondary effect of drawing attention away from the vanguard. Interestingly, Nakagawa's final regional match with Nakamura Shunto was very close to being a mirror match from grade 2 upward, with Alfred replacing Gancelot in Nakamura's deck. The defining difference between them then, was Nakagawa's use of four perfect defense cards over three, Toypugal over Apocalypse Bat, and maximizing Kay over including Lien. Part of this can be ascribed to Kay's attack skill, as with Wingal Brave's boost he can either force the opponent to guard for difficult numbers in the opening of the game, or make Brave's search skill highly effective at the start to compensate for the lack of general early deck-sifting that Lien gives.

Winter 2012 Regional Tournament, Nagoya Juniors Division (Japan)
Card Pool: TD01-BT08, PR 0001-0079
Grade 0
x1 Wingal Brave (FVG)
x4 Bringer of Good Luck, Epona CT
x2 Knight of the Future, Llew CT
x3 Yggdrasil Maiden, Elaine HT
x3 Margal DT
x4 Alabaster Owl CT
Grade 1
x4 Flash Shield, Iseult
x4 Little Sage, Marron
x1 Soul Guiding Elf
x2 Toypugal
x4 Knight of Friendship, Kay
Grade 2
x4 Blaster Blade
x4 Blaster Dark
x2 Starcall Trumpeter
x1 Knight of Loyalty, Bedivere
Grade 3
x1 Solitary Knight, Gancelot
x2 Swordsman of the Explosive Flames, Palamedes
x4 Majesty Lord Blaster

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dark Irregulars Extra Study Material: Dark Lord of Abyss

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
With the coming of Rampage of the Beast King, the Dark Irregulars are seeing an expansion on their Demon World Marquis, Amon play style. Integrating the existing patterns into the limit break format, this helps the Irregulars create a mass late game push that while present in their original play style, did not necessarily have the same level of impact as it does now.

Two new FVGs are introduced to the Irregulars in this set; Devil in Shadow and Greedy Hand. Shadow is the same 4000-power rearguard that has been popping up since Shizuku's debut back in the Japanese Extra Booster 2, and he shares her flaws. While the Irregulars aren't swimming in 11000-power units, do get one in this set that can go in the rearguard with Devil for an easy 15000-power column, and they come with a plethora of existing vanguard-only 11000 units, but this does not quite cover for Devil's shortcomings. There's no way to bring a line he's in up to 16000 without using a +2000 grade 3 that Irregulars decks don't have a whole lot of room for, while Greedy's base 5000 can at least manage this with the aforementioned 11000 grade 3, and Devil's deck search skill tends to fire correctly only later in the game, after you would have already ridden a grade 3. Greedy Hand meanwhile, has an innovative skill that's all his own; by counterblasting 1 and soulcharging himself, he searches the deck for a grade 2 or lower Dark Irregulars and soulcharges it.

The real discussion at hand isn't Greedy Hand vs Devil in Shadow, but rather Greedy Hand vs Vermillion Gatekeeper. In the first place, Greedy's move-to-rearguard skill automatically puts him one card over a fighter using Vermillion. His power can also form a 16000 line with Death Anchor or Beelzebub, while his second skill simultaneously negates the advantage of his first and expedites the process of getting key cards from previous sets like Werewolf Sieger into the soul, making Edel Rose more consistent than ever. Greedy Hand also promotes controlled soulcharging, something that Vermillion was severely lack in. Because Hand costs counterblast in exchange for this control, and any counterblast lost to the Irregulars is treated as being lost permanently due to a lack of unflipping skills, he can't be recommended for Stil Vampir or Death Anchor-centric builds. While it's possible to include Greedy in these decks and not use his skill, that cuts out one more soulcharge from the fighter's control, something that can be compensated very quickly for by the No-Life King, but not so readily for Stil Vampir. Vampir's soulcharge is intended to be done in addition to that of Vermillion and other soulcharging units, and relying it to compensate for using Greedy threatens to put the Irregulars game one turn behind in a format that emphasizes very strict speed of setup.

It should be noted that since Greedy Hand's skill is an activate, and it soulcharges both him and his target, Greedy Hand will put the well-established Doreen the Thruster at +6000 power for the duration of the turn. That's a very nice maneuver for decks that can spare the counterblast, and potentially gives decks that don't run Stil Vampir or Death Anchor an advantage over those that do. The skill also combos well with a new soul-based mechanic introduced by Rampage of the Beast King.

When a card with the same name is in the soul, Demon Bike of the Witching Hour, Hades Carriage of the Witching Hour, and Demon Chariot of the Witching Hour gain +2000 power; each of them belongs to a particular grade reading from 1-3. So Demon Bike is a second 8000-power booster if you use Greedy to soulcharge it, while if you can get a second or third one in the soul he's a 10000-12000 power booster that puts Doreen to shame. Hades Carriage is probably the least compelling of the three, since he has lower base power than Demon Chariot and only has intercept over that card--and you don't want your key attacker to leave the field. Demon Chariot meanwhile is capable of reaching 16000 power without a boosting unit, breaking the 21000 line with as low as a 5000-power booster. With Doreen and a few cards to come, that could potentially be a consistent 25-31000-power rearguard, making Chariot definitely something to consider for rearguard support, while Demon Bike holds a valuable place as a vanguard alternative to Doreen or Devil Child. The one drawback to these cards is that because they can end up in the damage zone rather easily, they do necessitate dedicating 4 copies of them to use well, and the Irregulars do not have a whole lot of room for that with so many powerful grade 3s and key boosting units already present. My personal recommendation is to run four Demon Bike with one or two Devil Child and two Doreen.

Of the new triggers, Mad Hatter of Nightmareland is the most attractive due to the Irregulars' past lack of consistency--in BT03, their lack of draw triggers was the main restraining bolt on Amon's power. Being able to bring out a 25000+ power vanguard column every turn, or lock the opponent at grade 0 and prevent them from calling out perfect defense cards while your vanguard attacks for 21-27000+ power, and being able to do those things in every game are two very different things. By BT05 the other clans had caught up enough that the added consistency wasn't as explosively threatening, but whether BT07 has surpassed these flaws is yet to be seen. Aside from Hatter, Dark Knight of Nightmareland is the clan's second critical trigger and is likewise attractive due to his skill, which moves him to the soul to give +3000 power to one Dark Irregulars unit. The soul-fueling aspect of the skill makes him desirable even to players who aren't going to run two types of critical trigger, and it's another main phase skill that ties back to Doreen. My personal recommendation is to run six draw triggers with six critical triggers, as sacrificing Dark Knight and Hysteric Shirley to the soul is harmful enough that you're probably better off avoiding Dark Queen's skill entirely.

Beyond Demon Bike, there are two very different types of soul-based grade 1s introduced in this set. Yellow Bolt's skill is to rest himself to soulcharge 1. Since you can't attack when taking the first turn, he's intended to get the most out of that while giving you a reason to call cards on that turn, ensuring that his fighter stays involved with the game from the beginning. Courting Succubus is a new, more long-term version of Alluring; when an attack that she boosted hits a vanguard, her fighter gets to soulcharge 1. There are a couple different ways to look at this skill, since on one hand it gives the opponent the chance to deny an Irregulars deck its soulcharge, while on the other it also pressures the opponent to guard when they otherwise wouldn't and in that way it also acts as a counter to limit break decks that would otherwise take the damage to build up towards their endgame.

Cyber Beast is another stab at circumventing the consistency issue. He's a card type that's seen widespread introduction since Breaker of Limit, letting you draw a card for free when his attack hits a vanguard, if you have four or more Dark Irregulars rearguards at the time. This is a direct increase in card advantage, but given that he's a grade 2 with the exceptionally low 7000 power, it's unlikely for this attack to go through in the first place as without Doreen his power maxes out at 15000--just barely enough to pressure 10000-power vanguards--and he's a perfect target for 17000-power columns to overwhelm. The second draw trigger generally provides enough consistency as-is that Cyber Beast becomes unnecessary.

Emblem Master is one of the more hyped cards of the set. A 9000-power grade 2, when his attack hits a vanguard you can counterblast 1 to soulcharge 3. This sets him out as the new Blue Dust, albeit one without Devil Child to help bring his attack through. With the plethora of 7000-power units the Irregulars have available to them though, this shouldn't be that big of an issue. Factoring in Courting Succubus you can get as high as a soulcharge 4, putting huge pressure on the opponent to stop the attack, and Master isn't too difficult to defend since he has the maximum base power possible for a skilled unit. That counterblast cost wouldn't look too good for Stil Vampir or Death Anchor, but with Amon, Beelzebub or the new cards they're building to it works just fine as an incredible speed-up. Most cards only allow for a soulcharge 1, so getting an Emblem Master off is like jumping several actions forward in setup. Alternative to him, you have Flirtatious Succubus, who is a grade 2 version of Alluring. The skill can't be stopped, unlike Emblem or Blue Dust, and since she has no counterblast associated with her, she's definitely something for the older styles of play to watch out for.

The final entry in this set's grade 2 soulcharge line is Free Traveler, a Dark Irregulars version of Dancing Princess of the Night Sky. Her on-call counterblast is somewhat inconvenient since it can't be repeated and has to be done right away, but it's extremely useful for the Witching Hour series as it lets them power up in a controlled fashion and avoids the usual danger of charging triggers. Traveler is definitively a card for the new play style, but her 8000 power makes her just as tempting a target as with Dancing, so only two or three should be necessary to work with Greedy and bring Demon Bike/Demon Chariot up to speed.

Finally, we get into the big guns of the set. The new grade 3s have a lot to live up towards, from the sheer power of Amon to the innovation of Stil Vampir and overwhelming play of Death Anchor. Right away, Dark Lord of Abyss solves both vanguard and rearguard troubles by granting the clan a second base 11000-power grade 3, albeit one that doesn't really belong in the same deck as his predecessor. The Dark Lord is the clan limit breaker and is essentially unskilled until he reaches four damage; at that point he can counterblast 2, to soulcharge 2 and gain +1000 power for each Dark Irregulars in the soul, until turn end. Clearly an expansion on Amon's style, a pressing question arose immediately following his reveal; Why would one would use Abyss over Amon when they share the same skill, but Abyss' is only active at four damage and requires a counterblast to access instead of being continuous? The first and most obvious lies in their respective base power, since the difference between 11000 and 10000 is approximately 5000 shield and several more turns of stamina. The second is that Abyss' gives two soulcharges beforehand, so assuming that Greedy Hand has gone back to the soul at some point, this guarantees a base power gain of +6000, while Amon with Vermillion Gatekeeper could only guarantee +4000. (Granted, for the same cost of CB2 Amon could also get +6000, but that comes at sacrificing two cards from your own field to do so.) The third is that Abyss' is an activate skill that can be repeated, giving exponential increase in power rather than continuous. To illustrate, let's assuming that on his first limit break, Dark Lord of Abyss has Greedy Hand, Yellow Bolt, Emblem Master and four cards collectively soulcharged by Greedy Hand and Emblem Master in the soul--a soul of seven. Then Dark Lord limit breaks, soulcharging 2 and gaining 9000 power; then he limit breaks a second time, soulcharging 2 and gaining 11000 additional power on top of his previous gain, for 31000 total. Compare to Amon, who for a similar counterblast 4 could soulcharge four rearguards with the same base soul for just 21000 power. Dark Lord doesn't replace Amon entirely, since Amon is also able to conduct disruption tactics by wiping out the opponent's rearguards, but he complements the established style very well and if you're willing to go full bore into counterblast cards, he's a very devastating image.

Dark Lord has limit break support from Beautiful Harpuia and Beast in Hand, grades 1 and 2 cards which counterblast 1 on-call to add one card to the damage zone, then shuffle a card from the damage zone back into the deck in the end phase. These cards have a couple utilities despite their low 6000/8000 power, since they can force limit break to activate at 3 damage for usually no cost, but they can also stop the opponent from healing; if you use two copies of one of them or one of each, then you'll have five damage and an opponent at four will be unable to activate a fifth-damage heal trigger. Inversely, you can use these cards to bend the rules and activate heal triggers when you have less damage than the opponent--by adding a card to the damage zone so that you have equal damage, if you drive check a heal trigger it will activate, and then in the end phase the limit break support card's skill will send another card into the deck, so that you end with less than you began with despite beginning with less damage than the opponent. It's a rare occurrence and not all that reliable, but it's still something to consider in particular situations and it gives the limit break support cards an unorthodox application.

The other main grade 3 introduced in Rampage is Blade Wing Reijy. Reijy only has 10000 power, but his continuous skill is that if you have 15 or more Dark Irregulars in the soul, he gains two critical. This is all much easier to establish with the modern soulcharge support of course, and it means that the opponent can never declare a no-guard versus the vanguard because even if they had only one damage at the time, there is always a lingering threat of checking a double critical. That's extremely useful since, with cards like Devil Child, Demon Bike and Doreen, we're looking at a 20-25000-power vanguard column that must take either a perfect defense card or three cards to assuredly stop. His other skill is an on-ride one, which selects one of your Dark Irregulars rearguards and soulcharges up to three of that card from your deck. This is obviously useful for fueling his own skill, but it also ties back to the Witching Hour series by powering them up by +2-6000 on the spot, creating powerful rearguard columns in addition to Reijy's own lethal critical 3. (This skill does not activate with Doreen's because the soulcharge takes place in the ride phase, not the main phase.) The main difficulty with Reijy is that it requires 30% of the deck to be in the soul, but there is an easy answer to this; Death Anchor. If you can invite five damage in by turn three, the No-Life King will get you an automatic +5 soul in addition to Vermillion Gatekeeper's soulcharge and cards like Yellow Bolt, potentially putting you at as much as 11-12 soul by the time you ride Reijy and select a rearguard to soulcharge 3 more of, completing the skill. Multiple rides of Reijy can also play into this, but it also amplifies the past difficulties with the Death Anchor deck decking out. In the modern format, deck out has been a serious issue for decks like Tsukuyomi that are otherwise extremely competitive, so the possibility of running out of cards in five turns is a serious impeding factor on Blade Wing's playability.

As can be seen by the overwhelming influx of new cards, the real challenge with Irregulars is that there is no longer a definitive "best build" for the clan with only a couple variations in grade 3 to define it. More than ever before, Irregulars fighters need to determine what they want to do with their grade 3s before settling on how the rest of the deck will come together. A Stil Vampir/No-Life King cardfighter will want to exclude the new counterblast units, relying on Vermillion Gatekeeper, Courting and Alluring Succubus, Yellow Bolt and Blue Dust for an extremely fast setup, while Dark Lord of Abyss/Blade Wing Reijy fighters will instead go full-burst on cards like Emblem Master, Greedy Hand and Free Traveler. Those that stand by Amon or Beelzebub will need to find a middle ground that complements their style the best, and the facts are clear now that Irregulars has one of the fastest setups in the entire pro scene. Rampage of the Beast King has revolutionized play to the point that nearly every card in an Irregulars deck can fuel the soul in some way, and the introduction of cards like Yellow Bolt and Flirtatious Succubus means that absolutely no turn can be wasted now. It's a very intense format that's developing, and the sudden rise of the Irregulars puts greater demand on strategic play than ever before.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pale Moon Extra Study Material: Silver Thorn Dragon Tamer, Luquier & Sword Magician, Sarah

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
With the coming of Rampage of the Beast King, the Pale Moon circus is seeing an expansion on their established play, simultaneously bolstering their existing Crimson Beast Tamer style while also integrating new cards to further develop the format. This comes at a time when many feel that the circus has fallen out of a competitive scene that it was struggling to be sustainable in to begin with, and so the rain of new material is well welcome by Pale Moon cardfighters.

Addressing the past weaknesses of Hades Ringmaster is Girl Who Crossed the Gap and Innocent Magician, both of which move to the rearguard when ridden over. Innocent comes from the same line as Shizuku and Acorn Master, and he shares their shortcomings. Innocent's counterblast 1 to search for a grade 3 is too costly in a Pale Moon deck for what it does, as that counterblast will be needed for soul swap skills, and is most useful at a point in the game when retire-based units have already hit the field. Even at that late stage, the accuracy is in question in a deck that tends to quickly shave random cards off the deck and into the soul.

Girl Who Crossed the Gap meanwhile, uses the same cost to soulcharge herself and superior call another Pale Moon from the soul. This places all the way of early-game soulcharging on Skull Juggler, but makes up for this by giving the Pale Moon cardfighter direct, unstoppable card advantage and being a repeatable skill that can be brought out once more with cards like Purple Trapezist. By making careful use of Gap, Manager's job can also be done for him, superior calling the Juggler that was ridden at the start of the game multiple times with Trapezist and other soul-swap skills.

For triggers, there's no direct advantage to using Funny Pierrot vs Popcorn Boy. Poison Juggler takes precedence over Dynamite Juggler due to his +3000 power move-to-soul skill, and Rainbow Magician similarly has a place above Flyer Flyer and Spiral Master because of his soulcharge skill.

As I said last time, Pale Moon's access to multiple types of draw triggers was intended to supplement the lack of card advantage generated by Hades Ringmaster. Since BT07 and Girl Who Crossed the Gap removes the triggers from this context, they now generate additional cards rather than compensate for a lack of them. However, because Sky High Walker is the clan's only guaranteed means of unflipping the damage needed for Alice and Bunny's Deadly Shadow Beast, almost all Pale Moon decks will need to run some strand triggers. This does work in their favor, since to begin with one of the clan's most prided features is its fourth and fifth attacks, which jump up to six and seven with a checked stand.

Bull's Eye, Mia cannot be recommend over Skull Juggler, because she gives the opponent room to stop the soulcharge, and Juggler's skill is easy to repeat with Gap. So like Starting Presenter, Mia can't really challenge Juggler as the king of soulcharging.

Dreamy Ammonite exists as a counter to the long-loathed Berserk Dragon, Kimnara and Amon, along with other retire-based units. Unique in that it only preserves advantage on the opponent's turn, when Ammonite is retired an additional Ammonite can be called from the soul. Because the soul is public knowledge, the opponent is unlikely to deliberately retire an Ammonite. Amon is the lone unit that this skill would see popular use against.

Soul swap itself has evolved considerably since BT03. To recap the old maneuver, originally you would superior 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 all this is limited by the opponent's ability to guard, by your damage zone and by your soul's contents. Magician of Quantum Mechanics is BT07's answer to Bunny and Trapezist. His cost is identical to Bunny, but it activates in the main phase, before you attack. After soulcharging himself, Quantum can then call any Pale Moon unit other than Magician of Quantum Mechanics. Completely unstoppable, the skill falls short of achieving the same rapid attack ability since it goes off in the main phase, but does resolve many of the issues surrounding Bunny to bring out on-soul skills--at a price.

Magician's call is not perfect. The unit he calls will return to the soul in the end phase, and Quantum would return to the field. If however, Magician's target is Alice or Bunny, and their skill activates, Magician's skill will not resolve and play can be resumed as normal.

Rampage also modifies Pale Moon's power-gain formula. While initially Turquoise Beast Tamer was presented in Demonic Lord Invasion, gaining +3000 power when her sister Crimson was in the soul (and this is intended to combo with Crimson for a 20000-power column), Jumping Glenn effectively replaces her in that role. When Glenn is superior called from the soul, she also gains +3000 power--but unlike Turquoise, this is over a 7000-power base. Pale Moon's wide range of call units, including the newly-introduced Quantum, makes Glenn's conditions very easy to fulfill, replacing Turquoise for the foreseeable future.

Cycling Actor is an interesting card. A classic Claire, Cycling gives +2000 power to another Pale Moon when he's called; unlike similar cards from other clans however, Cycling can be reused by swapping him in and out of the soul with other cards, potentially repeating his skill several times with the likes of Quantum, Gap and Alice/Bunny, building up the strength of weaker rearguard columns to make for a strong overall offense.

The reason that I stress the rearguard for Cycling is that Rampage of the Beast King brings with definitively stronger vanguard units over past sets. Silver Thorn Dragon Tamer, Luquier has gotten the most attention of these--the first skill you tend to see from her is an autoskill, giving her +3000 power for each soul-based superior call of your Pale Moon rearguards. With Quantum calling Glenn that's an immediate 23000-power column for dealing with the 11-13000 power vanguards dominant in the coming format, sufficient to catch any fighter's eye. And the well-loved Alice/Bunny-Trapezist formula can pump Luqui up to 16000 in the battle phase, ready to reach the same numbers with basic boosting units, or as far as 25000-31000 with two formula columns working in concert. Beyond that though, Luquier's limit break 4 is a heavy counterblast 3 to superior call up to one Pale Moon unit of each grade 0-3. That's four units in all, for a +12000 power boost, and if one of those is Jumping Glenn then we're looking at Ezel-style power gain for a 32000 line.

Alternative to this is Sword Magician, Sarah. While the millennium elf has been overshadowing her up to release, Sarah has been catching some hearts now that people have their hands on the new cards. Sarah gets an automatic +3000 when boosted by a Pale Moon, putting Manticore to shame by breaking 21000 with Bicorn, and she falls into the Goku line of cards in that her skills activate when she drive checks a grade 3. When those conditions are met, Sarah soulcharges a grade 3 or greater Pale Moon rearguard, then calls any Pale Moon from her soul. Although the conditions can be somewhat awkward to work with, this effectively lets Sarah stand the unit that she charged, letting Alice have a second go with Deadly Shadow Beast, or working with the new +2000 Midnight Invader rearguard. Sarah can also do this to start up a chain of swap skills, superior calling Purple Trapezist over the rested booster of the soulcharged grade 3's columnt, who then soulcharges Sarah's booster to superior call whatever unit is desired out of the soul to the front line, probably the Alice that Sarah charged, or otherwise pulling in a rearguard Sarah with the vanguard's skill for Trapezist for Crimson Beast Tamer. The possibilities are endless, since you could also call a useful interceptor like Big League Bear (or the slightly hardier Dreamy Fortress) when you're low on shields to guard with for the next turn, or draw cards like Fire Breeze Carrie. Sarah's skills are also always active, letting you accelerate right into the endgame even if you're at just two or three damage.

Despite all the talk of the new vanguards, the old Pale Moon hasn't vanished. Dancing Princess of the Night Sky can counterblast 1 both on-call and on-ride to choose a grade 2 or less Pale Moon unit and soulcharge it from the deck. Interestingly, Dancing Princess has caused Barking Manticore's build to grow stronger, not weaker with age. While he cannot reach the same numbers as Luquier, Manticore can consistently get Crimson into the soul with Princess' skill, automatically making Turquoise into something worth the two-card investment and helping Manticore to regularly push 22000 power. Turquoise can even be argued for as getting four slots in the deck with this build, since she can then press any column in the field with a 9000 boost, helping get Dancing Princess or Big League past the 15000 line and making the field in general much more versatile. Someone who wants to run the original Moon will have their work made very easy for them by the new cards, having a much easier time than someone struggling to hit off all of the new skills in succession.

Whether the classic look can match the requirements of a modern clan is still uncertain, however. The times have changed considerably since Demonic Lord Invasion's initial Japanese run; 26000 is the new standard now, rather than 21000 being the goal of every deck. In the old days when Dragonic Overlord, Soul Saver Dragon and Amon were the top vanguards, Manticore was the best vanguard that Pale Moon had. With Sarah and Luquier being the trend setters of Rampage, it's going to be interesting to see how the pro scene develops between traditional and modern Moons.