Saturday, November 3, 2012

Study Guide: Gold Paladin

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
Since their April release, the most trying part of playing a Gold Paladin deck has been figuring out what their specialties are. Most clans are highly talented in two areas and fairly good in one other (i.e., Royal Paladin has strong superior call, good superior ride and amazing power gain abilities.) Gold Paladin has been called a successor to RoPala, with similar superior ride and power gain, but weakened call skills. This is a misconception; the Royals had some send-to-hand and retire skills, but those were not their main strengths. Garmore is not the definition of GoPala, just as Soul Saver Dragon was not the definition of RoPala. Gold Paladin's real strengths lie in their superior rides and vanguard-stand skills. The superior call is a supporting element of this, but it is not the goal of the clan as with RoPala. Rather, it's a tool toward the goal.

The "mainstream" Gold build has three options for first vanguards. Cron is one of two 4000-power FVGs and has the least place here--long-time readers will already be familiar with him as a mass-produced FVG shared among many clans. His main flaw is that his 4000 power cannot form a line that pushes for 15000 power without an 11000-power attacking unit to correspond to it, which do not exist in mainstream GoPala. Even when he can, he can't push 16000, and versus 11000-power vanguards, that 1000 difference between 15 and 16 is the dividing line between an intercept and a trigger unit being used for your opponent's defense. The more shield you force from the opponent, the more valuable cards they have to sacrifice to stop the attack. If he boosts Holy Sage, Manawydan or Gigantech Charger, then you're going to break those numbers, but in this case we're compensating for a poor card with a better one when we could be using a different FVG in the first place.

Secondary to this weakness is his counterblast 1 skill, which can actually cost you the advantage if it misfires--Cron goes to the soul, and you get to peek at the top five cards of your deck and add one grade 3 Gold Paladin to your hand from it. The trouble with this skill is that it's unreliable and most likely to go off at a point in the game when many other cards have been removed from the deck, at which point you would already be at grade 3 and wouldn't need to use him to set up your ride. In addition to this, the majority of Gold Paladin search-and-thin skills are not controllable, so you may have already removed a significant number of grade 3s through superior call skills up until the turn you activate Cron.

The second FVG is Crimson Lion Cub, Kyrph. At 5000 power, Kyrph is much more natural support since he can at least go for 15000 with Beaumains or most grade 3s, and 17000 with Manawydan or Gigantech. And on top of this immediate leg up over Cron, Kyrph's skill confers a more useful advantage for no counterblast cost. When your vanguard is the grade 2 Knight of Superior Skills, Beaumains, and you have Kyrph and the grade 1 Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth in your rearguard, you can soulcharge Gareth and Kyrph to search your deck for the grade 3 Incandescent Lion, Blond Ezel and superior ride it. While this skill was heavily overhyped at release for being "costless card advantage" (it's not), it is genuinely good for taking the first-turn ride advantage out from under your opponent, or building on that same advantage from going first. The skill is flexible, since it can also help in catching up with the opponent if you were locked at grade 1 or 2 at some point in the game. To dispel some myths regarding Kyrph, this is how the skill works;
  • Since Kyrph moved out from under the vanguard with his Pioneer skill on the previous turn, the Gold cardfighter's advantage starts at +1.
  • After riding Beaumains, Kyrph and Gareth go to the soul; two cards are lost, putting the Gold cardfighter at -1.
  • Ezel is ridden from the deck, meaning that the Gold cardfighter will not need to ride a grade 3 next turn and so gained a card, putting their advantage up to 0.
  • One extra card is driven than normal with Ezel's twin drive, making the advantage +1 again.
As is plainly visible, Gold Paladin fighters start and end with a one card advantage. The particular odds of getting even one of these cards in hand by the time riding Beaumains would be appropriate vary--approximately 52% of all fights fought with four Beaumains and four Gareth in the deck will see one of the two cards in hand at the key moment, when first turn is taken, and 57% when the second is taken. So mainstream Gold Paladin favors the first turn slightly, though given how much actual control they have over the turn order this may as well be trivia.

The third and final FVG for the main deck is Spring Breeze Messenger. While previous first vanguards arrived in BT06: Breaker of Limits, Spring Breeze comes from BT07: Rampage of the Beast King and works into a similar superior ride mechanic. Like Kyrph, he comes with 5000 power, but instead of a direct ride, when the attack of a unit that Spring Breeze boosts hits, he can counterblast 1 and soulcharge himself to look at the top three cards of the deck and superior call one Gold Paladin from among those cards to rest position. On the surface it's an interesting but not particularly overwhelming skill, since fighters are trading one card for another and aren't able to make use of that card on this turn. The tables turn heavily in Spring Breeze's favor once other cards from his set are taken into account--grade 2 Lop Ear Shooter is probably the most discussed, who when superior called from the deck, can discard 1 card to look at three new cards in the style of Spring Breeze and call one of those. Again, Lop Ear isn't a direct increase in advantage, but the reason that she and Spring Breeze are so well-regarded is because of their two primary search targets, Dindrane and Pellinore.

Listener of Truth, Dindrane is a grade 1 unit with 6000 power that when called from the deck, can soulblast 1 to draw one card. This is an improved release of Silver Fang Witch from the Gold trial deck, who only sported 5000 power and cost soulblast 2 as a trade off to working with normal calls. Dindrane is the first real increase in advantage that Spring Breeze and Lop Ear can provide, being a free 6000-power booster for lining up with Beaumains and the like to challenge 11000-power vanguards, or with Manawydan/Gigantech for fighting crossridden units. Meanwhile White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore is a grade 3 unit that when called from the deck, can discard 1 Gold Paladin to superior ride, at least so long as the opponent's vanguard is grade 2 or greater. In contrast to Ezel, that last clause prevents Pellinore's ride skill from being used by the first turn fighter unless the second turn fighter performs a superior ride of their own first, and the ride itself still costs one card from the hand while also pulling Pellinore from the field to the vanguard circle. So riding Pellinore from grade 2 puts the turn fighter back to the 0 advantage they started with Spring Breeze's Pioneer, but comes at one new advantage; riding Pellinore stands the vanguard. Which means that twin drive can be performed for the turn in addition to the previous drive check, moving the Gold fighter up to +2 if Spring Breeze was the catalyst for Pellinore. Like Dindrane, Pellinore is an increase to advantage, and actually gives more than Ezel does using a more consistent ride skill. For a breakdown;
  • Spring Breeze boosts and the attack hits. The Gold fighter is currently at +1 from Spring Breeze's Pioneer, then activates Breeze's counterblast 1, sending them to the soul (changing the advantage from +1 to 0) then calls Pellinore from the top of the deck, resolving the skill at +1 total advantage.
  • Pellinore's skill activates. The Gold fighter discards 1 (advantage 0) then removes Pellinore from the field (advantage -1) then rides Pellinore over their grade 2 (advantage 0; if this were over a grade 3, it would still be advantage -1) and twin drives for +2 new cards, ending the turn at +2.
Of these first vanguards, Kyrph and Spring Breeze are both preferable to Cron, with Spring being easily the most consistent. Spring Breeze Messenger pushes the opponent to guard vanguard attacks for fear of the ride skill going off, and because of the possibility of a trigger coming up, many opponents rationalize into accounting for one when defending. That harms the opponent's advantage, and if they choose not to guard it then you can gamble on a superior ride while otherwise selecting something more appropriate from the pool of three cards if none of the key ride cards come up. Kyrph will still come into play later on, but for now he remains the domain of dedicated Ezel decks and one spin-off build.

For triggers, these Paladins have access to three types of draw, two critical and two stand triggers. The typical set for the mainstream build is to include four draw triggers with eight critical, while another option is six draw and six critical. Falcon Knight of the Azure should be avoided, because has only 4000 power, and while his skill does give +2000 power to another unit on the turn that he's called from the deck, this is a relatively inconsistent skill that only lasts for a single turn, after which you're left in the same situation as having Cron for a booster. Using Falcon Knight avoids one of the principle advantages of draw triggers--with half the shield of a normal trigger on a 5000-power base, they can effectively be used as four extra grade 1s in a deck for boosting purposes, meeting the minimum requirement with either 10000-power rearguards for tackling 10000-bases, or working with Gigantech/Manawydan as was briefly mentioned with Cron to assail 11000 bases. Base 5000 draw triggers not only add to your hand when checked, they also free your hand up by allowing you to make earlier, more stable attacks in situations where you may not have a grade 1. You would never want to call a critical or heal trigger under most circumstances, because that's losing 5000 shield more than with most boosting units. Because of this, Weapons Dealer, Gwydion and Speeder Hound are the preferred draw triggers. (There are reasons to use stand triggers in this clan, but it will take a little while to get to them.)

Moving into grade 1 discussion, the Little Battler, Tron is the resident 10000-power booster that Gold Paladin vanguards rely on, kicking in when you have more rearguards than the opponent. These are easy conditions to meet, since you only need to fill the field and take out one of the opponent's rearguards at a minimum, and any defense they try to make is one that leaves them less prepared to defend against the vanguard. Tron is generally seen as a card that's run 1-2 and no more than 3 of.

Sleygal Dagger is another common choice for boosting. Her 7000 power is the most we can demand of a skilled grade 1, and for a counterblast 1 when you have 4 or more GoPala rearguards, her power increases by +2000. That already makes her the clan's 9000-power booster in the vein of RoPala's Toypugal, but this skill can also be repeated, turning her into a consistent 11000-power booster for CB2, useful for facing down tough 11000-power-and-higher opponents with Ezel or Beaumains. Dagger is also one reason that you would use stand triggers in Gold Paladin; if for example, you were to counterblast 2 for an 11000 boost to Ezel, then attack with an on-hit call unit after the vanguard and activate their counterblast to call Pellinore or Lop Ear Shooter into Pellinore, and activate Pellinore's superior ride, then when drive checking a stand trigger with Ezel previously you could give the stand and power to Dagger for a 16000-power boost to Pellinore after the superior ride kicks in. This does require quite a bit of forethought to put together in a turn, but seeing as Pellinore is frequently wanting for a good boost on the turn his ride goes off, this model can also be applied to Tron for similar results.

I went into the mechanics behind Silver Fang Witch a short while before. She and Dindrane behave similarly, but Fang Witch has a higher soulblast cost and less restrictive conditions. She's a free 5000-power boost, making her about as versatile as a draw trigger or Pioneer FVGs, and like Dindrane she's best fueled by Ezel's superior ride sequence, which allows you to get off two Fang Witches in a game. The most optimal way to get her out is through superior call skills, since that allows the advantage to quickly snowball from +1 to +2 with a relatively small counterblast cost to offset it, so she's just as compatible with Spring Breeze as the Listener of Truth while not requiring that you get her out through a superior call.

Going into the key grade 2s, Player of the Holy Bow, Viviane is one of the more commonly recommended cards. At 9000 power it's easy to get her up to the 16000 line, but inversely hard to form a 19000 line to forcibly retire her with, and on-hit she can counterblast 1 to superior call a Gold Paladin to an open rearguard circle. This is one of the most pointed features of the Gold Paladins. Unlike the Royals, they usually cannot call to occupied rearguard circles, so the field must have at least one open circle to make use of these skills with. Viviane's skill is useful when you're strained for boosting units and can't get a third booster out for your other rearguard, and she's likewise good for triggering Lop Ear Shooter, Pellinore or Dindrane. There's really only one variant of Gold Paladin that doesn't use Viviane in some form, but that's still a ways down the line.

Sacred Guardian Beast, Elephas is an interesting if lacking unit. 8000 power is much harder to defend than 9000, but on-call he can counterblast 2 to superior call a grade 0, non-trigger Gold Paladin. From his introduction, Elephas really only had one use--superior calling a second Kyrph in case of the first one getting retired to bring out the superior ride. It's an interesting one-off skill for rare situations, but it's not very highly used since Kyrph going off in the first place is up to a coin flip. I wouldn't really recommend Elephas as more than a one-of in decks that use Kyrph, unless the Gold Paladins received something like Caravel to replace Fang Witch. Even as single card, Elephas requires that you include a second Kyrph, potentially upsetting your grade ratios. As of now, Akane and Macha had much more going for them than Elephas does.

Sleygal Sword is the grade 2 equivalent to Dagger, able to reach 13000 with a counterblast 2. This isn't as useful as Dagger, because it's harder to get out an 8000 power booster for a 13000 attacker than it is to get out a 10000 power attacker for an 11000 booster. There are simply more units in a deck with base 10000 power than there are with 8000--most grade 3s meet the criteria for Dagger, while Gareth is the only Gold Paladin capable of supporting Sword into a 21000-power line. Lop Ear Shooter I've discussed already, so moving forward a bit by now it should be apparent that these Paladins are rather heavy on counterblast skills. The remedy to this is Mage of Calamity, Tripp. She's a 9000 base like Viviane, who unflips one counterblasted damage when her attack hits. While that makes her a big target for drawing attacks away from your vanguard, Viviane and Tripp share another characteristic in forcing out guards from the opponent on attacks that they would otherwise let through, putting you in a situation where either the opponent will decrease their own advantage by defending or let you increase your own with the attack. This is where Tripp breaks away a bit, since unflipping counterblast doesn't directly increase your advantage, but the win-win principle is similar since the counterblast can then be expended on other skills to take the lead.

For the grade 3s, we went over Kyrph's 52/57 superior ride at the beginning. Blond Ezel himself is not limited to the early game, however. At four damage his limit break 4 kicks in, letting him counterblast 2 to superior call the top card of the deck and gain power equal to that card's own. Though frequently criticized for being "random" by inexperienced fighters, this puts him at a minimum of +5000 power. There are no cards that he can call which will give him less than this. Even Falcon Knight of the Azure, who has 4000 power, has an on-call skill that can give Ezel an additional +2000. This increase in field advantage combined with power gain, and Ezel's autoskill--+1000 power for each GoPala rearguard present, a move taken right out of Alfred's playbook--ensure that Ezel will usually be at 20000 power before boosting and around 25000+ after, hitting for the same numbers as Phantom Blaster Dragon minus the retire cost. Factoring in this minimum with Tron, we're looking at 30000+ baseline power from Ezel. So it's easy to see how Kyrph and one or two Ezel became the definitive base for Gold Paladin decks up until BT07. As this setup starts at a 30000 baseline and can climb as high as 40000 or 50000 with repeating his break over the limit, all before trigger units, Ezel has the highest potential power of the entire game, and even when it falters the skill still has its high base to fall back on. This is one reason why the game in general has shifted more toward four perfect defense cards rather than three, but despite the hype, keep in mind that those perfect defense cards--or even careful damage management on the opponent's side--can cause the limit break to be entirely wasted. This is the type of skill that you use to close the game when the opponent is at five damage, and to all of your current knowledge, your opponent has no perfect defense cards in hand. You do not want to be in a situation where you just used a counterblast 4 with Tron as a booster and drive checked two trigger units, only to remember that the opponent is taking your attack while at two damage.

The Great Silver Wolf, Garmore is a trial deck exclusive and the grade 3 that for a while became the dominant deck for Gold Paladin. On-ride he can counterblast 2 to superior call any unit in the deck, regardless of if you have open rearguard circles or not, bypassing the main restrictions on the Gold Paladins while also allowing for the skills of cards like Lop Ear Shooter, Fang Witch and Dindrane to be used with impunity. Garmore is also the first limit break unit with proper limit break text to be introduced; at limit break 4 he gains +5000 power, easily pushing him over the 21000+ border, just like Ezel's continuous skill. This skill would not normally be considered so special, since this skill is a mass-produced limit break that almost every clan that receives, but there are other reasons surrounding Garmore's longevity. Accompanying him is Charjgal, another powerful boosting unit in the vein of Tron, this one reaching even up to 11000 power for more defensive opponents. Charjgal comes attached to a soulblast 1 cost though, and his boost only works on this version of Garmore, though it can work on both rearguard and vanguard Garmores. Vanguard Garmore's counterblast can search for Charjgal just as well as it can Tron though, while Charjgal's 6000 base complements a wider range of alternative attackers vs Tron's less-useful 4000 base. So normally, in terms of field versatility and power Charjgal wins out, while Tron has more targets for his skill and less demanding conditions in exchange for being slightly weaker. In a deck that uses Garmore as one of its key vanguard units though, Charjgal is far more likely to see play over Tron because with the limit break in action the total power of the Great Silver Wolf is 26000, forcing a minimum of two cards out for perfect defense or three cards out if one is not available, from every non-crossride opponent. That assumes that the opponent has two 10000-shield cards in hand--if not, then they have to start using more 5000-shield units than strictly necessary to totally protect against the attack. While this power gain is obviously not as large as Ezel's, it's consistent, costs only a soulblast 1 per attack, and Garmore is the only +5000 power limit breaker who can search the deck for his own custom booster. Add that to Garmore-Charjgal forming a 21000-power line in the rearguard, and you have a recipe for one of the strongest decks the Gold Paladins offered at their introduction.

Like many clans in the wake of booster set 7: Rampage of the Beast King, the Gold Paladins have two limit break support cards that work to assist their vanguards. Disciple of Pain is a 6000-power grade 1 that when called, can counterblast 1 to send one card from the top of the deck to the damage zone, and in the end phase cycle one card from the damage zone back into the deck. This lets the Disciple use her counterblast at no cost, while also allowing for an early limit break. Master of Pain is the 8000-power, grade 2 equivalent, who is slightly less usable since he requires Gareth to reach the minimum for fighting 11000-power vanguards, where Disciple works with an abundance of grade 2 and 3 units. In addition to their limit break support, you can also call them to prevent the opponent from healing damage, by voluntarily putting yourself at five and so ensuring that they can only heal on a sixth-damage check.

There are two main supporting grade 3s other than a rearguard Garmore. Which one you use depends on whether you're more focused toward the opponent's rearguard or vanguard units. Holy Mage, Manawydan gains +2000 power when boosted by a Gold Paladin, so if with Gareth he can at least go for 20000 power versus any unit, even rearguards. Gigantech Charger on the other hand gets the same bonus for attacking a vanguard. While Manawydan is on the surface superior, there is one reason to use Gigantech; stand triggers. Gigantech can go for 16000+ independently when a stand trigger is applied to him, allowing for up to four or even five full-power attacks in one turn. And while stand triggers don't have a whole lot of incentive for Ezel, there is a clear reason to include them.

The third limit break in the grade 3 equation comes from the other part of the GoPala superior ride family, Pellinore. Like Ezel, Pellinore's usefulness jumps up at limit break 4, where when he attacks, Pellinore can send two Gold Paladins from the field to the bottom of the deck to give +5000 power to up to two Gold Paladins. That's including himself, so we have yet another consistent 15000-power vanguard, though this one can also give +5000 to his booster for what is minimum 29000 and more likely to be 30000+ (according to the manual, units attack before they are boosted despite how the anime depicts it, so empowering the booster will in fact put the power onto Pellinore.) The cost of this skill is in this case card advantage, since you lose two cards by using it, but you can use this to your advantage by sending back a poorly-arranged field. Another way to use the skill and potentially get some use from stand triggers is to only give the +5000 to Pellinore's booster, giving the other power to Viviane or a unit boosted by Spring Breeze, then attack with Pellinore first and give any stand triggers to his booster, followed by an attack with your superior-calling rearguard to try for a Pellinore or Lop Ear-Pellinore call to superior ride Pellinore from Pellinore. The result is a minimum 14/15000-power boost to the new Pellinore if you checked triggers, and even if the check doesn't work out how you want it to, since you're still at four damage, you can use the new Pellinore's limit break to send back the rearguard you just attacked with and have another 15000-power Pellinore. If your stand came out, then you're looking at potentially a 35000-power vanguard attack right after a 23000-power one. This is much more useful than just getting a critical trigger with Pellinore, since that trigger would either cause the opponent to not let your rearguard's attack through, or simply fizzle when you superior ride your new Pellinore since power and triggers applied to the previous one don't carry over into your next ride. As is apparent by now, Gold Paladin decks actually have good reason to use stand triggers, as they provide versatile strategy that the brute force of criticals can't really muster.

After watching the clan develop for seven months, it's clear that we were mistaken about Gold Paladin strategy. Superior call, superior ride and power gain do factor into it, but they are for the most part tools to support vanguard-stand skills. The Gold Paladins have more ways to stand their vanguard than any other clan; Viviane, Spring Breeze, Lop Ear Shooter and still-upcoming like Kahedin all play into Pellinore for the mainstream build, and we've yet to cover the cards from Extra Booster 3. Next time I'm going to explore this concept further, diving into the Spectral Duke Dragon build and his support cards, and how these support cards interact with both the mainstream and Duke Dragon decks.