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.