Thursday, January 31, 2013

Analysis: Smith versus Suharto

Smith versus Suharto, Match 3 was a cardfight played in September of 2011 at the Tokyo Dome Hotel. Played between North American national champion Brandon Smith and Asia-Oceania runner-up Henry Suharto, it is among the most famous cardfights and one of the first professional games to be recorded in video. Today it is used as a reference point for the early development of the English format's pro scene, and as an instructional tool on the value of damage control, field presence and the weaknesses of limit break. Although there were actually three matches, with match 2 going to Smith and match 1 going to Suharto, match 3 is considered the most important of the three as it was the turning point where Smith gained the upper hand and demonstrated his qualification for the world title. This was also the closest of the three games, with a clear winner being impossible to call on either end up until the last trigger check. Smith would go on to call it "one of the best matches in the history of the game."2

Circumstances of the Match
The games were played as part of World Championship 2012, the first such international championship of its kind4. The winner would be crowned the first world champion as a result, the highest-ranked title of any format. Popular favor was overwhelmingly turned toward Smith even before WCS2012's international rounds had begun, due to his placing first at Toronto and Los Angeles previously, while Suharto had never taken first place in any of the competitions that he had qualified in. At the time, Christopher Fernau was considered the strongest alternative candidate for the title due to his performance in the harsh European environment and his wealth of experience; Suharto outperforming him and confronting Smith in the finals was a surprise turnaround, which threw off previous predictions surrounding the world championship. While almost all official tournament matches are conducted in a best of one, double elimination format with twenty minute rounds, the WCS2012 finals allotted the total match time fifty minutes for a best of three title game. A little under half of the total time given was used for the finals.

The final round was covered through a NicoNico Douga livestream on one of Bushiroad's official web channels, hosted by Doctor O and Terakawa Aimi.1 While Smith was using the same deck that he and Bastianelli had first co-built prior to the Toronto regionals, Suharto had made significant modifications to convert the deck he had used at the Asia-Oceanian championship to a Pellinore-based one, which until that point had relied on Spectral Duke Dragon.3

In match 1, Smith had the weaker opening due to completely missing the Vortimer line, but through careful damage control he was able to drive his opponent to 4-to-1 damage while they both were still at grade 2. The difference in card advantage seemed to have evened out by Suharto's third turn due to him not having a grade 3 to ride, putting them both at -1 while Smith had an immense lead in damage, but Suharto was able to turn this around by using Nimue to superior call Pellinore and superior ride into him, drive checking a critical trigger that evened out their damage zones and a draw trigger that again gave him the lead in cards. Suharto went from three cards in hand to six within a single turn, having double the hand size over Smith, who still had to ride Spectral Duke and cope with not having his typical base 11000 vanguard to rely on. This culminated in a difficult late game for Smith, as a late grade 3 drive check left him able to stop all but one attack from Suharto's field. While there were heal triggers left in his deck, Smith didn't pull one after judging himself unable to defend, and so the tide passed over in favor of Suharto.

In match 2, Smith pulled out his deck's strongest opening using Vortimer to fetch Vortimer, while Suharto had a comparatively weaker first ride with Halo Shield, Mark over Spring Breeze Messenger. Smith quickly multiplied this early game into a +3, superior calling with his grade 2 Vortimer into Viviane, then using her to superior call Elixir Sommelier to boost a Black Dragon Knight rearguard. A draw trigger that turn helped mitigate Suharto's loss in position, but the damage gap was already very wide along with the difference in control of the field. Smith played more extensive control here, blocking his opponent's Spring Breeze with intercepts and in the process, clearing two field spots for Spectral Duke Dragon's superior call in his third turn. In that turn, the North American champion chose to retire one of the new rearguards that he had called, effectively trading out the Sommelier of the previous turn for a rearguard Vortimer and Spectral Duke line. While this did maintain Suharto's at-the-time 1-card advantage, it allowed Smith to form three strong rearguard lines while Suharto was already going into the turn at 3-to-2 damage, and with Gigantech Destroyer and Sleygal Dagger forming a base 21000 line, he could then push for an immediate endgame while his opponent was still at grade 2. A critical trigger that turn sealed this move, forcing his opponent to defend both of his rearguard lines. Suharto at this stage had Viviane as his vanguard, so even damage checking a trigger did not do much to help his defense, due to the 14000 defense still needing to drop 10000 shield to stop Gigantech and Spectral Duke. Suharto went into his grade 3 turn at -2 to 0 and 5-to-2 damage. In contrast to Suharto's defensive problems, Smith was able to drop a single trigger on his opponent's vanguard for a base 21000 defense, making use of Duke's continuous skill to ensure that Pellinore would need two triggers to pass through. Smith won the match still at three damage, without ever making use of his limit break.

The Game
Turns 1-2
[V] Spring Breeze Messenger (5000) versus Black Dragon Whelp, Vortimer (4000)
Smith's hand:  6. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Little Battler Tron, Silent Punisher, Elixir Sommelier, Spectral Duke Dragon.
Damage: 0/6
Triggers left in deck: 13
Net advantage:  0
Suharto's hand: 5. Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Halo Shield Mark, Silent Punisher, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane, Flame of Victory.
Damage: 0/6
Triggers left in deck: 14
Net advantage: 0
Smith opens with his only copy of Tron (6000) moving Vortimer to the back of his vanguard line for +1. Suharto takes the stronger opening on turn 2, riding the Nimue (7000) that he draws and moving Spring Breeze behind his own vanguard line for his own +1, then drive checking Flame of Victory (Critical Trigger +5000 power / +1 critical.) Smith damage checks Beaumains and Mark.

Turns 3-4
[V] Spring Breeze Messenger (5000) boosting Player of the Holy Axe, Nimue (7000) versus Little Battle, Tron (6000) boosted by Black Dragon Whelp, Vortimer (4000)
Smith's hand:  6. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Silent Punisher, Elixir Sommelier, Spectral Duke Dragon, Spectral Duke Dragon.
Damage: 2/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark)
Triggers left in deck: 13
Net advantage:  +1
Suharto's hand: 6. Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Halo Shield Mark, Silent Punisher, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane, Flame of Victory, Flame of Victory.
Damage: 0/6
Triggers left in deck: 13
Net advantage: +1
Smith rides Beaumains (10000) and drive checks Sleygal Dagger. Suharto damage checks Mark.

On turn 4, Suharto rides Viviane (9000) but his vanguard line is guarded by Elixir Sommelier (S20000.) Because Viviane and Spring Breeze can only go for 14000 together, even with a trigger they will not be allowed to pass through; while Smith is no longer tied for card lead, his choice to protect on this turn causes the damage lead from Suharto's earlier critical to be nullified while also making any potential critical this turn wasted. Smith is taking advantage of an opening that Suharto's plays have created.

Suharto drive checks Listener of Truth, Dindrane.

Turn 5
[V] Spring Breeze Messenger (5000) boosting Player of the Holy Bow, Viviane (9000) versus Knight of Superior Skills, Beaumains (10000) boosted by Black Dragon Whelp, Vortimer (4000)
Smith's hand:  6. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Silent Punisher, Spectral Duke Dragon, Black Dragon Knight Vortimer, Spectral Duke Dragon, Sleygal Dagger.
Damage: 2/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark)
Triggers left in deck: 13
Net advantage:  0
Suharto's hand: 7. Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Halo Shield Mark, Silent Punisher, Flame of Victory, Flame of Victory, Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Listener of Truth Dindrane.
Damage: 1/6 (Halo Shield Mark)
Triggers left in deck: 13
Net advantage: +1
Smith rides Spectral Duke Dragon but because he drew his grade 2 Vortimer late, he only has a base 10000 Duke to rely on. Smith calls a rearguard Duke Dragon (10000) with Sleygal Dagger (7000) to his left line, and Vortimer (9000) to his right. Vortimer is guarded by Dindrane, while Smith's vanguard goes unguarded, drive checking Gareth and Flame of Victory (Critical Trigger +5000 power / +1 critical); the critical goes to the vanguard and the power goes to the rearguard Spectral Duke. Suharto damage checks Beaumains and Sacred Guardian Beast, Nemean Lion. Rearguard Spectral Duke (22000) is likewise unguarded. Suharto damage checks Speeder Hound (Draw Trigger +5000 power / draw 1.)

The triggers in play on this turn are interesting. Suharto's defense and Smith's critical mean that the game state would have returned to being essential neutral, with both fighters having dealt the same amount of damage and having lost the same amount of cards, but the supporting rearguards and Suharto's draw trigger means that Smith has a damage lead while Suharto still has his +1 over Smith's 0.

Turn 6
[R] No rearguards versus Black Dragon Knight, Vortimer (9000)
[V] Spring Breeze Messenger (5000) boosting Player of the Holy Bow, Viviane (9000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Black Dragon Whelp, Vortimer (4000)
[R] No rearguards versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Sleygal Dagger (7000)
Smith's hand:  4. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Silent Punisher, Knight of Elegant Skills Gareth, Flame of Victory.
Damage: 2/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark)
Triggers left in deck: 12
Net advantage:  0
Suharto's hand: 8. Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Halo Shield Mark, Silent Punisher, Flame of Victory, Flame of Victory, Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Knight of Elegant Skills Gareth, Speeder Hound.
Damage: 4/6 (Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Sacred Guardian Beast Nemean Lion, Speeder Hound)
Triggers left in deck: 11
Net advantage: +1
Suharto rides Great Silver Wolf, Garmore (10000) activating his counterblast 2 to superior call one grade 2 or lower Gold Paladin; Sacred Guardian Beast, Nemean Lion (8000.) Suharto calling Lion is a trick to defensively gain "one and a half" cards instead of just one out of Garmore, due to Nemean's especial intercept allowing him to play with an additional +5000 shield. This is also one of the more sensible calls that he could make in this situation, since the Gareth that Speeder Hound just gave him forms a base 16000 line with Nemean, and his front row is currently incomplete with this hand while Smith has almost filled the field already. Suharto still has one Dindrane left in his deck at this point, so while he could have gone for a straight +2 and access more of his deck while having a full line with Garmore, the better offensive field was more valuable.

Suharto calls Garmore (10000) to his left line and Gareth (8000) to boost Lion. Rearguard Garmore retires Vortimer, while the vanguard Garmore activates his limit break 4 for +5000 power, targeting Smith's Dragon (20000 v. 10000.) Smith does not guard; Suharto drive checks Halo Shield, Mark and Elixir Sommelier (Heal Trigger +5000 power / heal 1) giving the power to Nemean and healing his counterblasted Lion from his damage zone. Smith damage checks Beaumains. Suharto activates Spring Breeze Messenger's skill, counterblasting 1 to move Spring Breeze to the soul and look at up to 3 cards from the top of his deck to superior call one Gold Paladin at rest. Suharto sees Lop Ear Shooter, Speeder Hound and Gareth. After comparing it to his hand, Suharto calls Lop Ear, activating Lop Ear's skill by discarding Speeder Hound from his hand to look at three more cards and superior call one at rest. This time he sees Flame of Victory, Nimue and White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore. Suharto superior calls Pellinore (10000) then activates Pellinore's skill, discarding Flame of Victory to superior ride Pellinore, in the process standing his vanguard.

Pellinore (10000) attacks the vanguard Duke Dragon, but is defended by Flame of Victory (S20000.) Suharto drive checks Beaumains and Speeder Hound (Draw Trigger +5000 power / draw 1) giving the power to Nemean Lion. Nemean Lion (26000) goes unguarded, Smith damage checks Flame of Victory (Critical Trigger +5000 power / critical +1.)

This is one of the longer moves of the match, and somewhat complicated, but the end result is that Suharto starts his main phase with a sum +2 when Smith is at 0, then stretches this out into a three-card difference by giving Smith a -1 when his rearguard Garmore retires Vortimer. After that, Suharto heals one damage with his heal trigger, equalizing the difference in damage while firmly establishing himself in the lead through card advantage. This snowballs because at attack he was already at limit break and going for 20000 with Spring Breeze versus Smith's 10000 base, making the attack impossibie to stop if Smith wanted to survive the match. This put Smith in a dangerously compromised position where he could not control the flow of the game. Spring Breeze's skill initially makes no total changes to the advantage in play, but once Lop Ear's activates Suharto gets a +1; remember that Pellinore is only a +2 when superior riding from grade 2, although in this case his draw trigger check gives an additional +1. In this situation what we should consider is that Suharto added four and a half cards difference between him and Smith through multiple superior calls, and activated a second twin drive. The total advantage is now +4.5 to -2 when it started out as +1 to 0, giving the impression that this would go on to be a repeat of the first round.

Turn 7
[R] Lop Ear Shooter (9000) and Great Silver Wolf, Garmore (10000) versus No rearguards
[V] White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore (10000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Black Dragon Whelp, Vortimer (4000)
[R] Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000) boosting Nemean Lion (8000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Sleygal Dagger (7000)
Smith's hand:  4. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Silent Punisher, Knight of Elegant Skills Gareth, Elixir Sommelier.
Damage: 4/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Flame of Victory)
Triggers left in deck: 10
Net advantage:  -2
Suharto's hand: 8. Halo Shield Mark, Silent Punisher, Flame of Victory, Halo Shield Mark, Elixir Sommelier, Speeder Hound, Silent Punisher, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains.
Damage: 3/6 (Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Speeder Hound)
Triggers left in deck: 9
Net advantage: +4.5
Smith calls Elixir Sommelier (5000) and Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000) to fill in for Vortimer. The use of these two is interesting. Together, they have 13000 power, just enough to force out 10000 shield needed for Nemean Lion's defense; at that point, the Lion is no longer worth defending due to its total shield equaling what was needed to protect it, effectively negating the plus-one-half even if Suharto had blocks the attack, bringing him down to 4 v. -1 no matter how he moves. Suharto chooses to let the Lion be retired.

The vanguard Spectral Duke Dragon (14000) goes after Pellinore, Suharto defends with Silent Punisher and Speeder Hound (S25000) guaranteeing that Duke cannot get through. Smith drive checks Elixir Sommelier (Heal Trigger +5000 power / heal 1) giving the power to his rearguard Duke and healing Flame of Victory from his damage zone, then checks Viviane. The heal trigger becomes something of a mixed bag because even though it helps to prolong Smith's game, it prevents him from limit breaking, and it could be presumed from his call of Elixir Sommelier that he was intending to sacrifice Sommelier, Gareth and Vortimer for the break. Considering Suharto's hand however, it's doubtful just how effective this would be.

Rearguard Spectral Duke Dragon (22000) targets Pellinore. Suharto damage checks Viviane.

Note that Suharto checks Duke Dragon's soul when he attacks, and sees that there is no Black Dragon Knight there. This becomes a point of contention in approximately fifty seconds.

Turn 8
[R] Lop Ear Shooter (9000) and Great Silver Wolf, Garmore (10000) versus Elixir Sommelier (5000) boosted by Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000)
[V] White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore (10000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Black Dragon Whelp, Vortimer (4000)
[R] Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Sleygal Dagger (7000)
Smith's hand: 4. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Silent Punisher, Elixir Sommelier, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane.
Damage: 3/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains)
Triggers left in deck: 9
Net advantage:  -2
Suharto's hand: 7. Halo Shield Mark, Flame of Victory, Halo Shield Mark, Elixir Sommelier, Silent Punisher, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Flame of Victory.
Damage: 4/6 (Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Speeder Hound, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane)
Triggers left in deck: 8
Net advantage: +1
Suharto calls Beaumains (10000) to replace his lost Lion, then calls Flame of Victory (4000) behind Pellinore. This is the fatal move; Suharto eventually needs this 10000 shield to survive through turn 11, but he's instead calling Flame to boost Pellinore. His intentions aren't wholly clear; he could be intending to send Shooter and Victory to the deck for Pellinore's limit break to throw Beaumains up to 28000 or having a 15000 Pellinore and 23000 Beaumains while recycling a trigger with some other shuffle effect, so that when he inevitably loses the card advantage by having to replace a backrow grade 2, he can at least translate that to the opponent needing to expend more cards to defend, but this never actually materializes. It would seem as though Suharto has mistakenly assumed that Spectral Duke Dragon is at an 11000 base and that he needs the boost to hit, but he had already checked Duke Dragon's soul on the preceding turn and seen that Vortimer was not there. Whatever the case, calling Victory is an immediate mistake that costs him the game, and it's a rare example of a call actively decreasing advantage by -1 instead of influencing no change or increasing it.

Pellinore (14000) attacks the vanguard. Smith guards with Elixir Sommelier (S20000), repeating his play from turn 4. Suharto now needs two triggers to pass, but because he has to check them one at a time, he would have to be very desperate to put the first one on his vanguard and bank on the second also being a trigger unit. Suharto drive checks Elixir Sommelier (Heal Trigger +5000 power / heal 1) healing his counterblasted Beaumains from his damage zone and giving the power to Garmore. He then drive checks a second Elixir Sommelier (Heal Trigger +5000 power / heal 1) healing Speeder Hound from his zone and once again passing the power to Garmore.

Beaumains (18000) targets the vanguard. Smith defends with Silent Punisher (S20000.) Garmore (20000) follows up unboosted, and Smith damage checks Spectral Duke Dragon.

Turn 9
[R] Lop Ear Shooter (9000) and Great Silver Wolf, Garmore (10000) versus Elixir Sommelier (5000) boosted by Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000)
[V] Flame of Victory (4000) boosting White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore (10000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Black Dragon Whelp, Vortimer (4000)
[R] Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000) boosting Knight of Superior Skills, Beaumains (10000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Sleygal Dagger (7000)
Smith's hand: 3. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane, Black Dragon Knight Vortimer.
Damage: 4/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Spectral Duke Dragon)
Triggers left in deck: 9
Net advantage:  -4
Suharto's hand: 7. Halo Shield Mark, Halo Shield Mark, Elixir Sommelier, Silent Punisher, Flame of Victory, Elixir Sommelier, Elixir Sommelier.
Damage: 2/6 (Halo Shield Mark, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane)
Triggers left in deck: 6
Net advantage: 0
Sommelier (13000) attacks Pellinore. Suharto stops it with Elixir Sommelier (S20000.) Smith's vanguard Spectral Duke Dragon (14000) follows up, Suharto defends with another Sommelier (S20000.) This is a debatable call; it's clear that Smith is setting up for the limit break that he missed last turn, so any triggers that he checks are naturally going to go onto Spectral Duke, but Suharto has no base 5000 shield units in hand and most likely does not want to waste 10000 on the attack. It would be arguably better to call "no guard" in this situation rather than place a weak defense.

Smith drive checks Weapons Dealer, Gwydion (Draw Trigger +5000 power / draw 1) giving the power to his vanguard, them checks Flame of Victory (Critical Trigger +5000 power / +1 critical) placing all of it on his vanguard (24000 critical 2.) Suharto damage checks Garmore and Lop Ear Shooter. Smith counterblasts 2 to activate Spectral Duke Dragon's limit break 4, retiring Elixir Sommelier, Gareth and Vortimer to stand his vanguard and lose twin drive; however, Duke Dragon retains the effects of his checked triggers. He attacks Pellinore once more (20000 critical 2), and Suharto defends with Silent Punisher and Elixir Sommelier (S30000.) Smith drive checks Silent Punisher (Critical Trigger +5000 power / critical +1) giving all effects to his rearguard Spectral Duke Dragon.

Rearguard Duke Dragon (22000 critical 2) attacks Pellinore. Suharto intercepts with Beaumains and guards with Flame of Victory (S25000.) To recap, Suharto has just lost six cards in one turn while Smith has changed out three for one, for a net comparison of -6 to -6. With equal damage, both fighters are now once again in a neutral game state. Despite that, the situation is clearly not the same for each of them--Suharto's cards are distributed through his field, in poor positions with Lop Ear in the back line where it can't intercept and Flame of Victory unable to defend, while Smith's are concentrated in his hand, giving him greater longevity than Suharto.

Turn 10
[R] Lop Ear Shooter (9000) and Great Silver Wolf, Garmore (10000) versus No rearguards
[V] Flame of Victory (4000) boosting White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore (10000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000)
[R] Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Sleygal Dagger (7000)
Smith's hand: 7. Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane, Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Flame of Victory, Silent Punisher, Flame of Victory, Weapons Dealer Gwydion.
Damage: 4/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Spectral Duke Dragon)
Triggers left in deck: 6
Net advantage:  -6
Suharto's hand: 3. Halo Shield Mark, Halo Shield Mark, White Hare in the Moon's Shadow Pellinore.
Damage: 4/6 (Halo Shield Mark, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane, Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Lop Ear Shooter)
Triggers left in deck: 6
Net advantage: -6
Suharto calls Pellinore (10000) to fill in for Beaumains, then attacks with his vanguard (14000) at the vanguard. Smith defends with Silent Punisher and Gwydion (S25000) guaranteeing that the attack will not pass. Suharto drive checks Garmore and Elixir Sommelier (Heal Trigger +5000 power / heal 1) giving the power to Garmore and healing Lop Ear Shooter from his zone. Garmore (15000) targets Smith's vanguard, but is stopped by Flame of Victory (S20000.) Rearguard Pellinore (18000) attacks the vanguard, and is blocked by a second Flame of Victory (S20000.)

Turn 11
[R] Lop Ear Shooter (9000) and Great Silver Wolf, Garmore (10000) versus No rearguards
[V] Flame of Victory (4000) boosting White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore (10000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000)
[R] Knight of Elegant Skills, Gareth (8000) boosting White Hare in the Moon's Shadow, Pellinore (10000) versus Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) boosted by Sleygal Dagger (7000)
Smith's hand: 4. Player of the Holy Bow Viviane, Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Weapons Dealer Gwydion, Black Dragon Knight Vortimer.
Damage: 4/6 (Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Halo Shield Mark, Knight of Superior Skills Beaumains, Spectral Duke Dragon)
Triggers left in deck: 5
Net advantage:  -10
Suharto's hand: 4. Halo Shield Mark, Halo Shield Mark, Great Silver Wolf Garmore, Elixir Sommelier.
Damage: 3/6 (Halo Shield Mark, Player of the Holy Bow Viviane, Great Silver Wolf Garmore)
Triggers left in deck: 5
Net advantage: -6
Smith calls Gwydion (5000) to boost his vanguard, then Viviane (9000) and Gwydion (5000) to fill out his last line. Rearguard Duke Dragon (17000) attacks Pellinore, Suharto stops the attack with Elixir Sommelier (S20000.) Smith attacks with his vanguard (15000), Suharto chooses not to defend. Smith drive checks Gigantech Destroyer and Halo Shield, Mark. Suharto damage checks his second Spring Breeze Messenger. Smith activates Spectral Duke Dragon's limit break 4, counterblasting 2 and retiring his rearguard Duke Dragon, Sleygal Dagger and Gwydion to stand his vanguard and lose twin drive.

Spectral Duke Dragon (10000) attacks Pellinore, Suharto declares "no guard." At this point, Suharto's play is paralyzed because he has just three cards in hand. The only thing that he has to defend with is a single Mark; if he drops one, he will not be able to drop the other because of Mark's discard. Had he chosen not to guard the rearguard Spectral Duke Dragon, he could easily make it through the turn, but in this situation he has to hope that Smith does not get a trigger and then use up his remaining defense on Viviane. At this point, there are no heal triggers left in Suharto's deck, so a critical trigger will end the game.

Smith drive checks Silent Punisher (Critical Trigger +5000 power / critical +1) giving the critical to Spectral Duke Dragon and the power to Viviane. Suharto damage checks Dindrane and Beaumains; Brandon Smith becomes the 2012 world champion.

The Fatal Move
From the seventh turn onward, both fighters were forced to deal with poor fields and their respective gains rapidly evaporating. In this situation, the match became very tight, with the lead rapidly bouncing between finalists. Navigating these scenarios, particularly the endgame, is difficult and takes extensive experience. Turn 8 is where Suharto erred--calling Flame of Victory only deprived his hand of 10000 shield, because Smith did not have Vortimer in the soul and so Pellinore could already hit Spectral Duke Dragon, while either unboosted or not by this trigger unit, Smith would still drop one trigger to make the attack need two to hit. This effectively put Suharto at an immediate -1, as with that one 10000 shield he would have had enough cards in turn 11 to defend and potentially launch a counterattack on turn 12.

Smith's use of Spectral Duke Dragon's limit break in his final turn did more than launch a killing attack. It allowed Smith to trade out his front row Spectral Duke for a unit with higher shield. The move was necessary even if it had not been the finishing blow, because he would likely not have been able to defend through the next turn without it. Suharto's choice to not defend here was heavily criticized at the time of the finals, but by all reckoning he could not have defended. He had four cards in hand at the start of the turn, had already defended with Sommelier, would need to drop one more for Mark and still had to account for Smith's remaining Viviane line while only having one card in hand at that point. If he stopped Duke with Mark, any potential triggers would go to Viviane, which Suharto had no way of defending against. Effectively, it was impossible for him to make a good move that involved defending after blocking the rearguard Duke Dragon. His losing move was then calling Flame of Victory, who would have an extra 10000 shield to defend with, enough to stop Viviane and Gwydion after factoring in the trigger.

Citations and External Links
1. "Brandon Smith Wins Cardfight!! Vanguard World Championship 2012." Anime News Network. Bushiroad Inc., 12 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. <>.
2. Cavanaugh, Katherine. "Store clerk wins world title for card game." Daily Tribune 23 Dec. 2012 [Royal Oak, Michigan] : A1+. Print.
3. "DeckRecipe." CARDFIGHT!! VANGUARD. Bushiroad Inc., 13 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. <>.
4. "Tournaments/Events." CARDFIGHT!! VANGUARD. Bushiroad Inc., 18 June 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. <>.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Royal Paladin Extra Study Material: Soul Saver Dragon

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
The Soul Saver Dragon build is sometimes called the first modern deck. Certainly, it's left a serious mark on the history of the game, and the core strategy behind it is still commonly used today, but it's also been by and large left behind by modern sets. While Lohengrin, Alfred and Blaster-based cards like Gancelot have been reinforced in today's game, Soul Saver has essentially stopped developing right where she started.

The build's namesake and focal card is Soul Saver Dragon, a base 10000 grade 3 built around auto rather than activate skills. The base 10000 alone should clue you in to the fact that she's an offensive unit first and foremost; and like Alfred before her and Garmore to come, Saver Dragon is a rearguard-dependent vanguard. Her first autoskill is to gain +3000 power when attacking a vanguard, forming an easy 21000+ line with either Marron or Toypugal for forcing strong defenses from units like Asura Kaiser and Dragonic Overlord where Alfred could not, but do note that with Toypugal, Soul Saver caps out at 22000, just short of pressuring a crossride. This is one area where she's aged, as the 23000+ vanguard line is an essential part of postcrossride formats. Her second autoskill, and her area of dependency, is to soulblast 5 on-ride to give +5000 power to three Royal Paladin rearguards. This is one of the original finishing skills in the game, setting up Palamedes and Toypugal, or herself and Marron to go for 26000 before triggers, which is perfect for when the opponent is at four to five damage, but there are three key weaknesses to the card.

Before we jump into those, let's instead look into her support. Reading from lowest and moving up we find that Saver Dragon affects trigger bases, as the clan's first draw trigger to have a skill, Margal, can support her soulblast by moving to the soul to give another Royal Paladin unit +3000 power. That's one card less needed to fill up the soul with, at the cost of draining the extra lead that a draw trigger normally brings; the reason that this works so well is because Margal's +3000 can turn a 17000 line into a 20000 one, or 18 to 21000, so if the opponent is to defend that attack then they lose one card more just as you have lost one card more. Moreover, Barcgal was discussed in our previous module, but this is where the soul that we've built up with Llew really counts. The superior ride into Blaster Blade gives exactly the soul count necessary to pay for Saver Dragon's soulblast, ensuring that if you have an early lead then you can go for the endgame right from your grade 3 ride, or otherwise have a plan for the turn after you ride the King of Knights. In any format with the September 5th or August 1st restrictions in effect, Barcgal can no longer be used as the first vanguard, severely limiting his use and preventing any superior ride that he initiates from increasing card advantage, although some fighters still choose to run him as a one-card tech with the proper trigger bases. Drangal leading into Galahad is still generally considered the best replacement FVG for the English format, but any first vanguard that can reliably move back to the soul can suit Soul Saver's purposes.

Next in support is Young Pegasus Knight and his corresponding grade 2 equivalent, Great Sage Barron. At 6000 and 8000 power respectively, these units gain +3000 power whenever a card is soulcharged in the main phase; that means that one Margal can bring their line up to 23000 power, or in a Lohengrin offshoot they can reliably hit for 20000 every turn. More reliably, you can run Pegasus Knight by himself as a booster that can reach 12000, though this will be difficult to manage over the course of multiple turns and if you aren't trying to hit 12000 then Toypugal is by far the easier card to meet the conditions for. To that end we have Pongal, a base 7000 grade 1 that can counterblast 1 in the main phase to move to the soul and add Soul Saver Dragon to the hand from the deck. This support Saver Dragon and Pegasus Knight simultaneously, allowing for the mystic dragon to come to hand very easily while increasing the soul for her use, but the maneuver also telegraphs to the opponent that you're going to ride Soul Saver, highlighting one of the card's key weaknesses. Soul Saver Dragon is more dependent on the rearguard than Alfred, and unlike the King, she can't conveniently call other Royal Paladins to assist her. There's a very brief window at the start of each turn to activate her skill with, but because it is on-ride, you need to have three rearguards set up in advance to pass the power on to, otherwise the soulblast is wasted. This translates to the back row having the most importance in a Saver Dragon deck, because the power can be passed on to boosting units who are more difficult to attack than the front row, but this doesn't necessarily save the Soul Saver cardfighter because of clans like Kagerou, Narukami and Megacolony, all of whom have some way of crippling your boosting units by either retiring them or preventing them from boosting.

Among the last of the Dragon's support cards is High Dog Breeder Akane, a base 8000 grade 2 that on-ride or on-call can counterblast 2 to superior call one Royal Paladin High Beast. There are a couple of ways that this can play out; Akane can call Pongal for a base 15000 line, then move him to the soul later to get Saver Dragon into hand, she can bring out Margal for an immediate soulcharge to support the Dragon that will turn Akane into a base 11000 line for the turn, or she can bring out Lionmane Stallion to support a rearguard Alfred. That last move is particularly helpful if you do want to run Lionmane, since you can limit it to one copy and still bring the card out reliably, and it helps Akane support Alfred within his own deck, but within the context of Soul Saver, Akane's primary target is going to be Pongal or Toypugal. Toypugal is the more long-term option, since you're likely to intercept with Akane on your opponent's turn to make room for Palamedes and prepare Saver Dragon's holy charging roar, but Pongal will let you jump right into the Dragon in a pinch.

Finally, our old friend Pendragon rears his head. Because of her +3000 autoskill, it is possibly to run four copies of Soul Saver Dragon with Pendragon as a backup fifth copy to limit break into her, avoiding Alfred altogether. Pendragon can break 21000-23000 while Alfred cannot, which does give some credit to this more modern take on the deck. Lohengrin can also support her in place of Alfred, and this is fairly consistent with Marron, Young Pegasus Knight and Toypugal all available to the Royal Paladins, but he's not particularly recommended because of the lack of a guaranteed 20000 line, lack of access to Lien for card changing, and for his soulcharge not being particularly practical toward supporting multiple soublasts, which would theoretically be the reason to include the clan megablaster in the deck.

Soul Saver's ride comes with a steep cost, which in a format without Barcgal is difficult to pay even with all of this support, and very likely to cause one more card than normal to be dedicated to the vanguard circle, when it could have otherwise been used to pay for Iseult's cost or be called to replace a rearguard. Blaster Blade was arguably one reason why the Soul Saver Dragon deck was perceived as being its own best counter for some time, as he could exploit the deck's rearguard reliance to retire the opponent's front row units and then go after the second line, which if one of the opponent's back line spaces was unfilled would cripple their strategy. In truth, Megacolony and Kagerou have the best matchup as mentioned above, since Giraffa can eliminate units early and go for 21000 every turn while Goku can clear out the back row with Berserk's help and Dragonic Overlord can handle the front. Other decks with Alfred-based units also have the option of assailing your Palamedes with their vanguard, severely dampening the strategy's power with an attack that it's difficult to justify dedicating the cards to defend against. The strategy itself plays on the Royal Paladin's strong superior calls to set it up, but its maneuvers are expensive and you have to budget both your counterblast and your soul carefully to bring it together. The deck's moves have become so definitive of the pro scene that at this point the deck could be called a cliché, with virtually no surprises among its ranks. However, Soul Saver Dragon comes with consistency, power and strong plays all throughout the early to endgame, making for one of the most solid decktypes that can bring its central play out the most regularly.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

News: English Tournament Season for 2013, Set Release Schedule

Photo by rawritzrichii, seek consent before reposting.
Recently-released posters have set out a much-awaited schedule for 2013's tournament season, as well as a schedule for booster set releases. In addition to these, dates for sneak preview events have gone up, providing exclusive chances at getting playmats, promo cards and early access to new cards.

Tournament Schedule
March-June 2013: Cardfight!! Vanguard Stand Up Challenge Cup
A singles tournament whose victor will "Rise as the number one Cardfight!! Vanguard player." This is currently speculated to be WCS2013; the four month time frame presented matches up with that of the 2012 world championships. If this were the case, then it's possible that the schedule will parallel 2012's closely, with the Indonesian, Australian, Philippine and German national tournaments taking place in March while the tournaments for France, Great Britain, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan take place in April and the North American championship runs concurrent to the others, extending into May. If this were the case, the world finals would be in early June. However, there may be more participating countries than in the previous year.

Within the time frame of the tournament, BT05 will be usable from the beginning, while EB01 will become available in late March, TD07 will become available in the tournament's second month, and BT08 will be made available during its third. BT09-onward will most likely not be usable before the end of the tournament, based on its late release date. This means that the major players during the Stand Up Challenge will likely be Dragonic Overlord The End, Majesty Lord Blaster, Scarlet Witch CoCo and Goddess of the Full Moon Tsukuyomi. Notably, Aqua Force is projected to have a very slim window to appear within; its first opportunity to take a tournament title will probably be at a stage when only trial decks are available.

April-July 2013: Cardfight!! Vanguard Team League
A worldwide triples tournament that will pit the strongest teams from different regions against one another to select for the globally strongest team. This tournament being confirmed as a global one strongly implies that the Stand Up Challenge is an international event. Due to the timing of the tournament, it appears that it will not interfere with the Stand Up Challenge Cup, possibly allowing for dual participation in both tournaments.

Note that Fighter's Road 2013 will be starting up in May and ending in July, concluding in the same timeframe as the Team League. This is similar to how the 2012 international cup and Fighter's Climax 2012 were structured, with WCS2012 starting up a month earlier but ending in the same month as FC2012.

BT05, EB01 and TD07 will all probably be available at the start of the Team League, with TD07 having the most room to be excluded. Within the first three months of the tournament, every set listed below with the probable exception of BT09 and definite exception of EB06 will be made available.

Booster Set Schedule
BT05: Awakening of Twin Blades
February 15/16/17 2013 - Sneak Preview
February 22nd, 2013 - Set Release
Will provide the opportunity for fighters to receive a The End playmat and Darkside Pegasus promo card. Reinforces Royal Paladin, Shadow Paladin, Kagerou, Dark Irregulars, Pale Moon, Nova Grappler, Oracle Think Tank and introduces Murakumo and Neo Nectar.

EB01: Comic Style Volume 1
March 22/23/24 2013 - Sneak Preview
March 29th, 2013 - Set Release
Reinforces Royal Paladin, Murakumo, Pale Moon, Nova Grappler, Kagerou and Megacolony, and introduces the Exculpate the Blaster promo card for Royal Paladin.

TD07: Descendants of the Marine Emperor
April 19th, 2013 - Deck Release
Introduces Aqua Force to the English pro scene.

BT08: Blue Storm Armada
April 26/27/28 2013 - Sneak Preview
May 3rd, 2013 - Set Release
Reinforces Aqua Force, Neo Nectar, Narukami, Great Nature, Dimension Police and Tachikaze.

BT09: Clash of the Knights and Dragons
June 21/22/23 2013 - Sneak Preview
June 28th - Set Release
An all-star set which reinforces Gold Paladin, Narukami, Aqua Force, Angel Feather, Oracle Think Tank, Nova Grappler, Murakumo, Great Nature, Pale Moon, Royal Paladin and Shadow Paladin.

EB06: Dazzling Divas
July 19/20/21 2013 - Sneak Preview
July 26th, 2013 - Set Release
An extra booster dedicated wholly to Bermuda Triangle, much in the style of EB02: Banquet of Divas. The set will feature Eternal Idol, Pacifica as a major card, succeeding Top Idol, Pacifica of EB02.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Oracle Think Tank Extra Study Material: Goddess of Flower Divination, Sakuya

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
Oracle Think Tank is a variable clan known for its diversity of play styles and many draw techniques; Sakuya may be a core element to the soulless Witch deck, but before she was codified as this she was also a deck of her own. Coming out from the trial deck TD04: Maiden Princess of the Cherry Blossoms, Sakuya introduces all of the major elements of OraThin while bringing a host of exclusive cards along with her to support her skills, and to reinforce the clan as a whole.

Sakuya comes with two skills attached, an autoskill and a continuous skill. When she's ridden, Sakuya returns all of your Oracle Think Tank rearguards to the hand by compulsory skill, opening the field while also allowing the reuse of on-call skills. Her continuous skill, taking right out of CEO Amaterasu's playbook, grants her +4000 power during your turn as long as you have four or more cards in hand. With Milk, Sakuya can go for 24000 power on-attack, so she's most definitely still relevant even in crossride formats. There are a number of ways to support this, using Luck Bird's soulblast, Maiden's Libra's counterblast and other skills, but most importantly is a grade 1 from Sakuya's own trial deck, Dark Cat.

Dark Cat is a base 7000 unit that allows all fighters to draw a card when he's called. This has been panned by some for giving the opponent cards as well, but the key reason for this card's importance is that he modifies the total number of cards in play without actually changing the card advantage of either fighter, effectively lowering the requirements for Sakuya and Milk's skills. This makes the 24000 line very easy to create, meaning that the real advantage lies in the increase in power, which the opponent will have to drop extra cards to stop. In a very roundabout way, Cat hurts the opponent long-term. This is not his sole use, either; Dark Cat is invaluable to every OraThin deck.

Cat gives greater overall access to the deck with his call, so that you can bring him out even if you have something to boost and potentially access an attacker in that very turn. For Goddess of the Full Moon, Cat is important for shaving off another card from the deck and bringing his fighter close to the stack of cards that they prearranged using the foresight skills of Godhawk, Ichibyoshi and the Tsukuyomi series. Generally this ranges from a 12-15 card stack, preferably with trigger units situated close to the top for the purposes of a drive check, and while Cat individually only brings the Tsukuyomi fighter one card closer to that stack, when taken together with the deck's multiple soulcharge and draw skills, our dark kitty becomes an instrumental piece in bringing about that cohesive strategy. CoCo takes advantage of Cat's access differently, setting up a 15000 line with Silent Tom for fighting base 10000 vanguards to force them to expend at least two cards for defense, or an 18000 line with the Battle Sisters, Mocha and Glace for assaulting crossrides reliably.

Within his trial deck, Cat does have two other partners. Sword Dancer Angel is a base 8000 that gains +1000 power whenever you draw a card. This makes a base 16000 line with Cat on the turn that he is called, but it also raises her power whenever you check a draw trigger, including on the opponent's turn. That can make for some interesting scenarios, since suddenly a unit that could be wiped out by a Marron and Gallatin line requires 19000 power to forcibly retire, although this isn't as reliable a defense as Angel Feather sees. Sword Dancer is very strictly limited to draws, not trigger checks, so more reliable than her is Battle Sister, Maple, a base 6000 grade 1. While not extensively impressive right out of the box, Maple's skill is to gain +3000 power when she attacks if you have four or more cards in your hand, and you can play the same trick of "lowering" the requirements with Dark Cat as you can with Sakuya. Maple also forms a 16000 line with Cat, making her a good backup front row unit if you have to intercept the rearguard that she's boosting at some point in the game; she's also useful for early aggression in this regard, as you can call Maple and Cat on the first or second turn for a full-power rearguard line, then ride Sakuya on the third to return them to hand and make a more normalized formation while also making Sakuya's skill that much easier to trigger by recycling Cat's autoskill. Overall, Maiden Princess of the Cherry Blossoms is a flexible set of cards that can be neatly integrated into multiple OraThin builds, providing a good foundation and offshoot for any deck set in the clan.

Next time that we revisit Oracle Think Tank, I'll be discussing Imperial Daughter and the cards introduced in EB01: Comic Style Vol. 1.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

News: Liberator of the Round Table, New Clan Revealed

Recently pictures of the much-awaited Gold Paladin Alfred have surfaced, revealed the following data about the card;
Liberator of the Round Table, Alfred
Power 11000/No Shield/Gold Paladin/Human
Continuous【V】 Limit Break (4): During your turn, this unit gets +2000
power for each of your rear-guards with "Liberator" in its name
Activate【V/R】 : [Counterblast (2) cards with "Liberator" in their name] Look at up to 1 cards from the top of your deck, search for up to 1 《Gold Paladin》 among them, call it to an open rearguard circle, and put the rest of the revealed cards on the bottom of the deck.
Continuous【V/R】: Lord

Update: Clearer images have since clarified that Alfred only looks at the top 1, not the top 3 as previously thought.

Liberator of the Round Table has drawn considerable attention as the definitive, new Gold Paladin with Gancelot as his backup. Alfred answers most of the problems surrounding both Ezel and his original incarnation as the King of Knights; a strong base 11000 power simultaneously protects him and allows him to hit 21000 power independently, doing this even prior to limit break with Llew's assistance, and once he does hit limit break he can reach a consistent 31000, again with Llew's aid. The especial counterblast restricts him from being used in traditional Gold Paladin decks, but his base power lets him become a strong rearguard not reliant on a specific booster. With the Gold Paladins' rearguard focus and this card to bring a cohesive strategy to the fore, Alfred has become the subject of much excitement regarding the end of the crossride format in Japan and the soldification of a strong identity for Gold Paladin that can compete with their ever-strengthening Royal predecessors.

Images previewing BT10 have shown a box design patterned off of BT01: Descent of the King of Knights, with the new Alfred featured on the front and Dragonic Descendant on the back. Both Alfred and Blaster Blade Liberator are being illustrated by Itou Akira, the franchise's overall creative influence and primary author, who was also responsible for the original Blaster Blade and both Alfred designs.

In other news, image mockups for the next round of official sleeves have revealed that Misaki will not be using Oracle Think Tank for the duration of Link Joker, but that her new cards from a new clan altogether, Genesis. Of the Genesis cards so far revealed, their main grade 3 is known to be War Goddess of the Moonlit Night, Artemis, based on Artemis the Greek god of archery and the hunt, while the only other Genesis card revealed is unknown, but appears to be patterned on more Japanese motifs. Reactions are mixed as all deck changes thus far in the franchise are generally held to be mishandled by fans, but it appears that with the major Shinto deities exhausted on the OraThin side of things, Bushiroad has chosen to create a new clan for the Greek pantheon. Artemis has been illustrated by Azusa, who previously illustrated Battle Sister Ginger, Cup Bowler and Sacred Guardian Beast Nemean Lion, among other cards.

On the Bermuda Triangle side of things, Eternal Idol, Pacifica was recently revealed in the same capacity as Artemis, but what kind of card she will be is not yet known. She will be receiving her own sleeve, and some have taken her prominent resemblance to Sendou Emi as a sign that Aichi's younger sister may become a larger figure during Link Joker, as she was previously used to advertise EB02 during the first season. EB06: Dazzling Divas is due for a March 23rd Japanese release and a July 2013 English release, updating Bermuda Triangle for the modern scene. Eternal Idol is being illustrated by Takuya Fujima, who was also responsible for the original Pacifica's artwork, and is otherwise known for his work with the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid manga.

The product page for VGE-BT05: Awakening of Twin Blades has revealed that there will be 82 cards in the set and with 22 Rares, 2 more than was present in the Japanese set. Past booster sets have introduced a practice of integrating cards that were promos in their original Japanese release into main sets for their English release. Current speculation is that one of these promo cards may be Creeping Dark Goat, a Shizuku-type Shadow Paladin first vanguard that has been very popular in Japan as a replacement for Fullbau and the Blaster evolving line.

(via ameba)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Study Guide: Nova Grappler

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
As part of the core four, the Nova Grapplers are one of the most supported and long-lived clans in Cardfight history. The clan is unusual in that it is heavily rearguard focused, with much of its gameplay being defined by well-timed autoskills based around sequencing attacks so that these skills will stand the rearguards and create multiple attacks in a turn. This requires rethinking how one approaches a match, as the Nova Grapplers are exceptional at wearing down the opponent's resources at any given point in the game, but have very little control over when their skills will be able to activate.

The first vanguard has always been somewhat of a difficult issue for the clan, as while Oracle Think Tank had its key grade 0 set in stone from BT03: Demonic Lord Invasion and has had stable followups ever since, the Grapplers have not ever had a go-to FVG. Battleraizer, introduced in BT01: Descent of the King of Knights and reprinted in TD03: Golden Mechanical Soldier, is as close as they get to this but is significantly different from standard units of his type. While he does move out from the soul when ridden over with a unit of the same clan, unlike typical outriders Battleraizer is also a trigger unit with just 3000 base power. He compensates for this by giving an additional +3000 whenever he boosts, which makes him useful with King of Sword and units of comparable power, but then cycles back into the deck at the end phase, depriving you of the advantage that his outride initially gave. This can be compensated for by moving him up to the front and trying to pick off the opponent's rearguards with a boost from Tough Boy or one of the clan's base 7000 grade 1s, but eventually you will want to replace him. The fact that he moves out from the soul is troublesome to work with for a clan that at release was very much reliant on its megablaster, to the point where some cardfighters chose to run the unskilled Kaleido Ace instead, but Battleraizer has several unique advantages of his own and is one of the longer lived first vanguards.

Other than the basic outride and early boost, as a cycling trigger unit Battleraizer offers the chance to return triggers to the deck and increase one's chances of checking another trigger later on as more nontrigger units are removed and Battleraizer keeps diving back. This gives some longevity to the Nova Grappler deck, and for this clan in particular stand triggers are more useful than in other clans because it allows for an entire line to restand consistently with additional power factored in, rather than just one unit standing through its autoskill. This also means that decks that tend toward decking out, like Tsukuyomi and soul-based clans like the Dark Irregulars and Pale Moon, are at a distinct disadvantage versus a deck that keeps sending cards back. Moreover, the Nova Grapplers are in a minority group of clans that can run just sixteen grade 0s rather than seventeen, letting them have one extra slot for deckbuilding as well as access to a 16-15-11-8 grade ratio, generally agreed upon as the most consistent ratio that misrides the least often. It would be a mistake to say that there is no reason to run Battleraizer; the strategy is there, but it takes experience and skill to use well.

Still, for a more cohesive basis many fighters turn to other cards. Much like BT01, BT06: Breaker of Limits can be a good starting point for cardfighters that want to pick up the Nova Grapplers, because the set introduces two different FVGs for the clan. The first is Turboraizer, effectively a reprint of Battleraizer that can even be run in the same deck, but the second is Beast Deity, White Tiger. White Tiger is an important milestone because sets released after the first extra booster and the sixth booster set have tended to release base 5000 outrider first vanguards, a group which White Tiger belongs to. Base 5000 is important because it can boost the rearguard or vanguard units up to 15000 and 16000, and was a close to unthinkable idea prior to EB01. White Tiger does have a skill of his own, but at the moment we should focus on the outriding aspect. Either of these units can make a good FVG when starting out; I will cover subgroup-specific first vanguards in greater depth as we get to them.

With regards to trigger bases, as I've already pointed out, stand triggers have significantly more value in a Grappler deck than with just about any other clan. A deck that uses Battleraizer as its first vanguard will always be using some, and even decks that don't will sometimes integrate Raizer as a way of maintaining a higher trigger count in the deck even into the last turns of the game. Still, many fighters maintain critical triggers for their immediate benefits, and it's certainly true that the Grapplers' skills make stand triggers not an essential component of the deck. Red Lightning is one critical that sees use in most decks, as he moves to the soul to support soul-based Grappler builds and unflips counterblast from the damage zone to fuel more skills. Which triggers you run will be based on how the rest of your deck lines up.

In addition to their general theme of standing rearguards, Red Lightning brings us to the Nova Grapplers' secondary mechanic of unflipping damage. This is used to repeat smaller counterblasts many times for grander-scale effects, and to maintain access to the clan megablast. The mechanic as a whole is based primarily out of BT01 grade 1 and 2 units that unflip damage when called, Clay-doll Mechanic and Hungry Dumpty. Because the mechanic goes in and out of style as new sets are released, it can be good to have a reserve of them to fall back on in deckbuilding, as the Nova Grapplers are one of the most constantly evolving clans, receiving updates to both past and all-around builds with every set.

Of the other grade 1s, Queen of Heart is a highlight card. Being a copy of Wingal for King of Sword, the difference between the two is that the King is a base 10000 unit, so the two neatly form a 20000 line that wails on Alfred, Blond Ezel and comparative units while also being useful for picking off the opponent's rearguards and hitting crossrides for 18000+. Much like their counterblast itself, this goes in and out of use based on the popularity of base 10000, 12000 and 13000 units versus base 11000; when the latter is in vogue, the Queen is not. Cray Soldier is a much trickier unit, of the autoskill variety that the Nova Grapplers are characterized by--he stands whenever the attack that he boosts hits, but with only 4000 power this is of questionable utility. The card becomes much stronger in formats that lean towards units over 10000 power because the repeat attacks that the Grapplers are so fond of will fail if they don't match or exceed the target's power, but the card itself is lacking outside of several specific scenarios and many of these multiple attack strategies already involve methods of standing an entire line or increasing the power of the standed unit.

The Screamin' and Dancin' Announcer, Shout is the clan's card changing unit, who takes center stage in sifting through the deck because of their rearguard-centric strategy often requiring a very specific lineup. Many of the aforementioned rearguards come out of BT03: Demonic Lord Invasion, with the Death Army series debuting as definitive cards for the clan. Base 7000 and 9000 grade 1 and 2 units, Death Army Guy and Death Army Lady stand whenever a grade 3 Nova Grappler is drive checked. This makes them compatible with virtually any Grappler deck regardless of its build, and also gives you the freedom to avoid stands in deckbuilding altogether, as their shared autoskill lets you have a column that will do the work for you in a fight while conveniently lining up for 16000 power.

There is one last grade 1 that should be looked into before we move on, Dancing Wolf. Introduced in BT04: Eclipse of Illusionary Shadows, Wolf is a base 7000 unit whose autoskill gives him +3000 power when he stands. This provides him with a remarkable amount of flexibility; a stand trigger will bring him up to 15000 to work as an early game attack unit, essentially ignoring any damage triggers that the opponent checks at grade 1 to get a third or fourth attack in, while he can also work to give newly-standed units additional power. The skill naturally works with the clan's plethora of stand skills, but in terms of the actual game mechanics it needs to be examined more closely to be fully understood. The Comprehensive Rules establish the following; From the time it is chosen until
the end of the close step, the unit
chosen in this step becomes a
"boosting unit" and the attacking unit
becomes a "boosted unit". These two units
shall continue to be the "boosting
unit" and "boosted unit" in their
respective circles. If one of these 2
units moves out of its original circle,
the remaining unit will no longer be
the "boosting unit" or "boosted unit".

[...] the end of the close step, as long
as both units stay the respective "boosting
unit" and "boosted unit", the power of the
"boosting unit" will continuously be added
to the power of the "boosted unit".
At the time when Dancing Wolf stands, he has not moved out of the original circle, and the close step has not taken place. Because of this and the fact that the power is continuously added, Dancing Wolf's +3000 will be added onto the power of the unit he is boosting, meaning that a stand trigger can suddenly give a very irregular +8000 boost to the vanguard line if Wolf is the booster. This allows the Grapplers to bypass strong defenses, and as there are other ways to stand Wolf than just trigger units to get that +3000 into play, even decks that don't run stands should keep a close eye on him.

Moving into the grade 2s, there are two major cards that we should consider aside from the previously discussed Death Army Lady and King of Sword. Genocide Jack is a base 11000 grade 2, but comes with the restraint skill, preventing him from attacking. To release that restraint, you need to pay a counterblast 1--easy enough for a clan with unflipping as one of its base mechanics. Jack is valuable because he's very difficult for the opponent to attack, requiring a lot of resources in the realm of soulblasts or counterblasts to be expended to reliably eliminate him, and because he can form 16000 lines with as little as a base 5000 booster, while going up to 19000 with Tough Boy to shoot out the opponent's base 9000 rearguards like Bedivere or Masquerade. The aforementioned Dancing Wolf can also get him up to 21000 on second attacks, but Jack is not solely a rearguard unit. In the vanguard circle he receives +5000 power when boosted by a Nova Grappler, easily breaking 21, 22 and 23000 to both provide a better offensive push in the midgame and to counter gradelock. A deck that can afford Jack has the unprecedented potential to win matches without ever reaching grade 3, even against crossride units.

The second card to be discussed is Magician Girl, Kirara. Kirara as a card is shared among many different clans, using a counterblast 2 to draw one card when her attack hits, but the Nova Grapplers in particular can get better mileage out of her than most because of their unflipping mechanic. Her best use is against rearguards, since that automatically creates a two card difference if the attack connects, and if the opponent is defending versus a 16000 line Kirara, then they're typically expending more shield than the unit that she's attacking is actually worth. This stretches out a gradual difference in advantage between fighters, hurting the opponent's ability to defend long-term and upsetting their strategy.

At introduction the Nova Grapplers had an enforced reliance on two particular grade 3s, Asura Kaiser and Mr. Invincible. Kaiser is the more long-lived of the two, and arguably one of the best cards ever printed for the clan. His base 11000 is strong defensively, and his skill is yet another autoskill; when he drive checks a grade 3, Kaiser can stand a Nova Grappler rearguard. We've already covered the Death Army cards, who will do this on their own, so this means that with one drive check Kaiser can have one full line and another front row unit ready to attack again, or can stand a Dancing Wolf that's boosting him to suddenly jump up from 18000 to 21000, breaking a 10000-shield defense without actually checking a trigger unit.

This does create one problem, however. Grappler decks often find themselves having nothing to stand for Kaiser's skill, because they want to only use one rearguard line before attacking so that if no grade 3 or stand trigger is checked, the opponent will still have to defend knowing that there is another attack--possibly one that has a critical trigger on it--coming. One remedy to this is to run Death Army Guy alone, without Lady, so that the unit that Kaiser stands will have a booster ready for it and the deck can leave one line standing instead of becoming wholly dependent on Kaiser's skill. Unlike most decks of Kaiser's type, it's unusual for the Nova Grapplers to run ten or more grade 3s because they run into defensive complications versus critical-heavy opponents, while eight is fairly normal for a Kaiser build.

The second grade 3 that was initially put out for them is Mr. Invincible, the clan megablaster. Rather than gaining +2000 power from his soulcharge, Invincible instead unflips one damage when he soulcharges in the main phase, opening up the zone for decks that use Genocide Jack and several units that we'll cover further down. This has made Invincible valuable not just to the Grapplers, but also to mixed decks, with one particular hybrid having become historically infamous for integrating him with Dragonic Overlord. Mr. Invincible's megablast is likewise valuable to Grapplers and to hybrid decks alike, soulblasting 8 and counterblasting 5 when his attack hits to stand the entire field, including himself. While his lack of a power boost and soul support makes this difficult to put together and more difficult to land, the V/R nature of the megablast means that you can also get away with rearguard Invincibles harassing the opponent for maximum chances of the attack connecting, though that can weaken the impact of the blast should the vanguard's attack connect first. There are other ways to use the soulcharge than just building up to a megablast; Armored Fairy, Shubiela soulblasts 3 when her attacks hits to draw a card, making her a grade 3 Kirara with some higher restrictions on her use, and in the vanguard circle even gains +3000 power to make an easy 20-21000 line and bring the attack through. Invincible may lack Kaiser's direct use and defensive strengths, but soul-based play is periodically revived for the Grapplers and encourages his consideration.

Genocide Joker was one of the earliest grade 3s introduced for the Grapplers all the way back in August of 2011, being intended for the rearguard circle, but in the English scene we've yet to receive him. His skill is very direct, counterblast 2 for +4000 power, which makes very easy 21000+ lines to overwhelm the opponent with, and it's supported by the set of unflipping support that we introduced previously. The unit itself has been printed for other clans, but doesn't function as well for them as he does for the Grapplers because unflipping is not so easy for the other clans. Even in an era where Moai the Great and similar units can reach 18-20000 easily, Joker stands on his own for breaking that limitation and hitting units like Tsukuyomi and Dragonic Overlord when necessary.

BT02: Onslaught of Dragon Souls is mainly known for introducing the clan's perfect defense card, while its grade 3 Lion Heat has been largely overlooked. His counterblast 2 changes function depending on which circle he's in, but in the vanguard it allows him to stand any unit when his attack hits, while in the rearguard he can stand a grade 1 or lesser rearguard. The Lion is somewhat more troublesome to use both because his autoskill is on-hit and because of its limited number of rearguard targets, but Dancing Wolf provides more utility to the skill because that Wolf can work as an independent attacker after standing. Rearguard Lions are also useful with Asura Kaiser because barring Death Army Guy, Kaiser can only typically stand the front row. Heat gets around this by standing the back row unit while Kaiser stands the front, working together in a more complex formation so that the opponent will feel pressured to guard a rearguard Heat even at four damage.

The final grade 3 that we're going to discuss today is Ultimate Lifeform, Cosmo Lord. Like Heat, the Ultimate Lifeform is often overlooked because his skill is lackluster, to the point where the unit was eventually redesigned and rereleased in Extra Booster 4: Infinite Phantom Legion. We'll discuss Phantom Legion when the time comes, but for now let's focus on Lord. Cosmo Lord is one of the more flexible vanguards because you can adjust the intensity of his attack and skill, but he's also one of the most counterblast intensive; his activate skill is to rest a rearguard unit to gain +3000 power, limited to doing this five times for a +15000 total to hit 25000. The reason that it's counterblast intensive is because using his skill like this is a mistake, as Cosmo Lord has his own custom unit to rely on.

Introduced in the upcoming BT05: Awakening of Twin Blades, Meshrad Roid is a base 6000 grade 1 that can counterblast 1 to stand itself, but it's an activate skill and so is only available in the main phase. Normally that wouldn't be a very useful skill to have, but in this way it makes Cosmo's rest skill repeatable up to as many open counterblast as you have available--and as we've seen before, the Grapplers are a powerful engine for unflipping. With an open field to call on save for Meshrad, the maximum that you can bring out of this before losing any advantage is +25000, but we're not using the skill for its maximum. Cosmo Lord's skill is unique in that it can reliably break the 21000 line with Tough Boy for what amounts to a single counterblast, a feat that's been historically difficult to achieve within the Grapplers. This can be repeated every turn, while also being able to reach 24000 for fighting crossrides and 27000 if you're certain that the opponent has no perfect defense cards to drop. Cosmo Lord is a different beast from Asura Kaiser and succeeding units; rather than concentrating on a specific type of setup with an autoskill, Lord's activate rewards arcane knowledge of specific units, and this trend will only continue into Infinite Phantom Legion. EB04 doesn't just reinvent Cosmo Lord, it also brings in new cards that can support his prior form as a holdover of BT03, so his fans will not be without options as the format progresses.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

News: Souryuu Leon Returning for Link Joker, Shadow Paladins

A wall advertisement for the third season of Cardfight!! Vanguard, Link Joker, has just broken the news of Souryuu Leon's return to the anime. While this was already mentioned in Bushiroad's December 5th press conference, exactly in what capacity had not been revealed at the time. Leon's new coat and cravat--speculated to be a school uniform to go with Link Joker's theme--appear to be patterned off of a 1748 dress uniform for a Royal Navy lieutenant, albeit simplified. This is similar to previous imagery used by the series to tie the Souryuu family to the sea, as well as to the past.
In addition to this, Suzugamori Ren has been confirmed to be using a Shadow Paladin deck for the duration of Link Joker. Each character depicted on the poster is shown with their clan for the current season, with Aichi being featured alongside Liberator-based Gold Paladin, Kai with Dragonic Descendant, Misaki with her new Oracle Think Tank units and Ren with Phantom Blaster Dragon and Blaster Dark. This suggests that Trial Deck 10, already known to be a Shadow Paladin trial deck, will feature Ren as its cover character.

(via twitpic)

News: New Years' Trio Festival 2013 Tokyo Championship Results

This morning the results from Tokyo came in, concluding the second half of the New Years' Trio Festival. Designed to welcome the new year, this year's event is both smaller and larger than the one before it, in that there are only two locations but together they are divided into seventeen blocks total, six in Osaka and eleven in Tokyo.

Previously the Osaka results showed a trend toward Narukami, Oracle Think Tank and Gold Paladin, with the Blaster deck making a sudden revival and enduring through the new restricted format. Today we can see all of these trends continuing, with Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion "THE BLOOD" and Blazing Lion Platina Ezel remaining as popular, while Battle Sister-CoCo decks continue to dominate over Goddess decks on the OraThin side of things. A repeat appearance of Majesty Lord Blaster remains alarming to the scene at large, as this is the same decktype that was previously noted for having only four grade 3s, leading some to conclude that the Royal Paladins have "defeated" the restricted list by becoming stronger through the restriction of Wingal Brave and Majesty Lord Blaster. The results are leaving many to wonder how these decks will fare in Fighter's Road 2013, when they are pitted against one another rather than teamed up. Similar to the resurfacing Blaster deck, Dragonic Overlord The End has likewise reappeared minus his persona blast, with fighters now experimenting with the fusion of him and Goku.

One interesting point regarding "THE BLOOD" is that Spark Kid Dragoon is continuing to be the most popular first vanguard for Narukami leading out of 2012, despite his low 4000 base. It seems that fighters abroad prefer the accessibility of an extra grade 3 over meeting baseline attack requirements. A similar development can be found in recent Shadow Paladin decks, where Arai Toa has actually omitted both Blaster Javelin and Blaster Dark by choosing Creeping Dark Goat instead of Fullbau as her FVG.

The new Royal Paladin deck also seems to have inspired other clans to try the build, as there is now a Murakumo deck based on the idea in circulation under one of the newer faces to the pro scene, Kagawa Hitori. Kagawa's Magatsu Storm deck has Magatsu as its only grade 3, using the clan's evolving ride and self-stacking capabilities to normalize their odds of drawing Storm by effectively removing up to three non-Storm cards from their next drive and draw on the turn before the deck needs to ride him.

Aside from these decks, Glory Maelstrom has finally made his professional debut under Hirai Kento and Kobayashi Fumiyuki, the second and third Aqua Force cardfighters to ever place in an official tournament. These new Maelstrom decks are having difficulty adjusting for Glory however, as all of them want to run Diamantes; Hirai's answer was to run only one copy of Glory and use Maelstrom to draw into it, but Kobayashi instead chose to run a startling ten grade 3s. Similar to the Narukami and Shadow Paladin situation, both fighters preferred Officer Cadet Erikk over the Aqua Breath or Tri-holl Dracokids.

In general, Gold Paladin, Narukami and Oracle Think Tank are emerging as the three most populous decks, with Neo Nectar and Murakumo appearing on the fringes of the scene.

A Block Championship Team
Kawai Akihito/河井明仁
Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion "THE BLOOD" (Narukami)

Nakamura Mitsuaki/中村光昭
Majesty Lord Blaster (Royal Paladin)

Hasegawa Jun/長谷川純
Blazing Lion, Platina Ezel (Gold Paladin)
B Block Championship Team
Saitou Takumi/斎藤匠
Covert Demonic Dragon, Mandalalord/Phantasmagoric Snowy Wind, Shirayuki (Murakumo)

Sawamura Hiro/沢村洋
Galactic Beast, Zeal-Miracle Beauty (Dimension Police)

Hosoya Natsuki/細谷夏生
Spectral Duke Dragon-Chrome Jailer Dragon (Gold Paladin)
C Block Championship Team
Satou Hiroki/佐藤弘樹
Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion "THE BLOOD" (Narukami)

Nakanemi Yuuto/中峰悠斗
Blazing Lion, Platina Ezel (Gold Paladin)

Hirai Kento/平井健登
Blue Storm Supreme Dragon, Glory Maelstrom (Aqua Force)
D Block Championship Team
Kubo Naoto/久保直人
Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion, "THE BLOOD" (Narukami)

Seito Takaki/清藤尊季
Goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu (Oracle Think Tank)

Satou Yuuji/佐藤勇次
Spectral Duke Dragon-Chrome Jailer Dragon (Gold Paladin)
E Block Championship Team
Fujinami Daisuke/藤波大輔
Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion "THE BLOOD" (Narukami)

Tamamura Shinkou/田村信幸
Scarlet Witch, CoCo (Oracle Think Tank)

Tokunaga Kazuhiro/徳永和宏
Blazing Lion, Platina Ezel (Gold Paladin)
F Block Championship Team
Satou Yumi/里真有美
Scarlet Witch, CoCo/Battle Sister, Cookie (Oracle Think Tank)

Arai Toa/荒井研登
Phantom Blaster Overlord (Shadow Paladin)

Kagawa Hitori/香川一人
Covert Demonic Dragon, Magatsu Storm (Murakumo)
G Block Championship Team
Kobayashi Fumiyuki/小林史幸
Blue Story Supreme Dragon, Glory Maelstrom (Aqua Force)

Yamaguchi Nozomi/山口望
Crimson Impact, Metatron/Chief Nurse, Shamsiel (Angel Feather)

Hayashi Kakehiko/林翔彦
Scarlet Witch, CoCo (Oracle Think Tank)
H Block Championship Team
Saitou Kei/齋藤敬
Blazing Lion, Platina Ezel (Gold Paladin)

Ikada Toshiyuki/五十田敏行
Covert Demonic Dragon, Magatsu Storm (Murakumo)

Horigome Tatsuya/堀米達也
Dragonic Overlord The End/Dragon Monk, Goku (Kagerou)
I Block Championship Team
Igarashi Takamune/五十嵐健宗
Maiden of Trailing Rose/Arboros Dragon, Sephirot (Neo Nectar)

Takahashi Ryou/髙橋凌
Blazing Lion, Platina Ezel/Spectral Duke Dragon (Gold Paladin)

Takanezawa Ryou/高根沢諒
Crimson Impact, Metatron (Angel Feather)
J Block Championship Team
Tsukamoto Naoki/塚本直樹
Super Beast Deity, Illuminal Dragon (Nova Grappler)

Shimamura Kenta/島村健太
Blazing Lion, Platina Ezel/White Hare in the Moonlight's Shadow, Pellinore (Gold Paladin)

Nakayama Shinnosuke/中山真之介
Scarlet Witch, CoCo/Battle Sister, Cookie (Oracle Think Tank)
K Block Championship Team
Nishi Kouki/西弘貴
Crimson Impact, Metatron (Angel Feather)

Ozawa Masahiro/小澤昌弘
Maiden of Trailing Rose/Arboros Dragon, Sephirot (Neo Nectar)

Sugiyama Tadashi/杉山直史
Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion "THE BLOOD" (Narukami)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How Long Can the Golden Goose Keep Laying?

Photo by rawritzrichii, seek consent before reposting.
In light of the December 9 results and the close of the 2012 World Championship, one thing has become clear; the Gold Paladins are strong. They have become the third most prolific clan in history, on the heels of Kagerou and their Royal predecessors. Being able to fill the field, draw new cards and break traditional defenses with powerful limit breaks are all key aspects of their success. Bandwagoning is also an element here--if 98 out of 100 decks at a tournament are Etranger, then at least 6 of the top 8 decks will be Etranger regardless of if those decks are any good. Even considering this however, the strengths of the clan are very real. At the very least, Smith, Bastianelli and Fernau did believe in the clan's power. In the world of pros, they are a real threat, but like any other threat they have weaknesses.

In particular, their dominant weakness has been evident since the first booster set. Garmore is the best card that the clan has ever printed; Ezel is only ever run for the opportunity to superior ride him, and occasionally his autoskill when stalling for Garmore. If the Gold Paladins had an exact copy of the King of Knights or of Soul Saver Dragon, that would be run instead. Spectral Duke Dragon is not the monster in Japan that he is on our side of the Pacific, because his sometimes-on sometimes-off +1000, intended to attack independently multiple times in a match, functions poorly in a format where stable 11000, 12000 and 13000 dominate. Even the Gold Paladins' coming crossride, Platina Ezel, is considered vastly inferior to previously-revealed crossrides that were not reliant on being at five damage. The End and even Goddess Amaterasu woul be run instead if they had Gold Paladin equivalents. Probably the most harrowing difficulty for the clan is that the general design theme is "Royal Paladin but weakened." There is no doubt that if sets 4 and 5 had been available during WCS2012, the clan would have been vastly undermined by Majesty Lord Blaster. This leaves a pressing question for the western community of Gold Paladin cardfighters who have grown endeared to their clan.

Come February, BT05 will be available, and by all estimates will be a serious factor in WCS2013. Where does that leave the Gold Paladin cardfighter? For how long can the golden goose keep laying? This is entirely dependent on BT10: Triumphant Return of the King of Knights. The recent team tournament results have shown that both primary variants of Gold Paladin can work well on the same team as Royal Paladin and Oracle Think Tank decks, much as Kagerou did in the 2011 Grand Prix team tournaments, but Platina/Spectral Duke is also competing for that space with Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion "THE BLOOD," who has seated himself as a new, ultimate break-impaired The End. We have yet to see how Platina holds up to its contemporaries in the seniors' and juniors' divisions, or to the new, Tsukuyomi-derived Blaster build.

Liberator Gancelot is an excellent replacement for Platina, hitting 23000 on-attack with Tron or Llew and throwing a second Gancelot up to 33000 with his break ride. Gancelot is not just an upgrade, but also a countercard that close to replaces the BT09 play style. However, one card cannot carry a clan. The Liberator subgroup is definitely one of the most powerful subgroups to ever be designed, but like all Gold Paladin decks, it is still reliant on first vanguards that depend on Ezel or Pellinore. Running Corron or Kyrph means running Ezel and/or Gareth with Beaumains, severely restricting a deck that would ideally be composed as close to as purely of Liberator units as possible. Running Spring Breeze means running Lop Ear Shooter and potentially Dindrane for an overall similar restriction, but even more than that, it means running Pellinore who has been ruled as not being a superior ride and as a result, canceling Gancelot's carefully-prepared break ride. Gold Paladin cardfighters are left holding out for the new Wingal Liberator and with him the new Alfred, leaving the future murky and uncertain for a clan that in Japan was repeatedly established as underdogs. Even beyond this, the Eradicator and Dudley subgroups are already receiving quite a bit of attention from pros as more likely to replace Spectral Duke and Garmore/Gancelot, respectively.

The English pro scene will soon be left to clash over the set that will finally induct us into the crossride format that has defined much of Japan's professional play for the past year. Despite that, it is already clear that The End will not be storming the format as some doomsayers have predicted. There are two reasons for this; first, the English scene is becoming updated with the more recent sets at a relatively fast pace, introducing new counter decks and reinforcing past decks. Second, the focus of Vanguard has shifted. We are at the end of an era--you could call it the end of the vanguard. Powerful vanguards are no longer a concern in the new format. No matter how much power you gain or extra critical you add on, this cannot circumvent a perfect defense card, cards which in the English format have been standardized at four copies by limit break. While some predictions say that Glory Maelstrom will respond to this by ending the perfect defense, the situation is not equal. While he does get over Duke's base power consistency issues, the new Maelstrom can only do this when he is on the brink of death, and it's clear from playtesting by now that fighting a Maelstrom deck is a matter of changing one's play style. Shields are placed earlier and more frequently, the rearguard becomes the focus of defense, and the vanguard is either not guarded against or grade 0s are conserved for fighting Glory and perfect defense goes to the rear. The situation plays out like jan-ken-pon; the Gold Paladins are undermined by Majesty, who is locked down by The End, who is shut out by Gold Paladin counterdecks that are defeated by Majesty. The most prominent major player living outside of these restrictions is Oracle Think Tank, whose CoCo and Battle Sister play styles neatly stops both the Blaster deck and crossride decks in their tracks, but even they then fall to the Gold Paladins. To who does the throne at the top of the world go to from here? This year's cup is open to everyone.

I am not in the business of naming kings. Blaster Blade Liberator will probably be revealed close to or over the weekend, being the final card from TD08 and TD09 to go unrevealed. This unit will be our last chance before February to gauge the new Gold Paladin, and with it how the Gold Paladin cardfighters of the previous year will plan for WCS2013. While my own investment is strictly centered on my personal clan, it will be interesting to see cardfighters both in the United States and abroad rethink their strategies. The natural position, even not knowing exactly what BT10 will bring, is to assume that Gancelot will be supported by Alfred, with extra copies of the Liberator himself replacing Gigantech Destroyer and Manawydan as a rearguard grade 3, but some fighters may still stick by Garmore or even find the "perfect" offensive grade 3 in Dignified Gold Dragon, who combines the Silver Wolf's and the Destroyer's roles into a single unit. How will traditional Gold Paladin fare once the Liberator subgroup hits the scene? Spectral Duke is largely forecasted to fall into the background in the February-on format, but is there some innovation remaining to rework the deck? Furthermore, there exists an interperiod between the release of trial decks 8 and 9, and the coming of BT10; while there are no official tournaments hosted in this period, there will be ample time for casual play and experimentation. Will we see them synthesized with Platina in an offshoot deck as Galahad and Soul Saver were once synthesized by Masuda?

The parallels are interesting; Gancelot and Alfred were once the first and perfect Royal deck, but were outmoded within three months by BT02's Soul Saver, and yet here we are, once again looking at Gancelot and Alfred, this time as the last Gold Paladin deck. Maligned and potentially unhealthy in large doses as they are, Cardfight does not end with the Gold Paladins. The scene has only evolved further.