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.