Friday, March 22, 2013

Study Guide: Megacolony

Photo by Touya. Do not repost elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
On the surface level, the prospect of forcing the opponent's field to be at rest seems situational and easily countered. Opponents can call new units to replace the rested units, stand triggers and skills can counter the enforced rest, and the cost is not always equal to the immediate result. Megacolony however, is not a surface level clan. Their advantages are subtle, and chiefly come from the multitude of applications that their skills have beyond face value.

While for three sets Megacolony only had the unskilled Madame Mirage as a first vanguard, BT04: Eclipse of Illusionary Shadows both completed the clan and introduced their first real FVG. Larva Mutant, Giraffa lifts his skill from Fullbau, beginning an evolution line that will reach all the way up to grade 3. When the Larva Mutant is ridden over by his grade 1 form, the base 6000 Pupa Mutant Giraffa, you can then add the grade 2 Elite Mutant Giraffa to the hand, and the Pupa Mutant will continuously gain +2000 power in the vanguard circle so long as Larva Mutant is in the soul. This type of evolving ride is the strongest opening move in Cardfight, giving you another base 8000 grade 1 ride in addition to Phantom Black, while ensuring that a Pupa Mutant draw is also an Elite Mutant draw, providing grade security that frees up your redraw to dedicate to other cards. The weaknesses of the skill are shared with Fullbau, as Larva Mutant will never leave the soul, so if you miss your Pupa Mutant ride the strategy falls apart with no gain in extra cards to compensate.

Pupa Mutant himself is a base 6000 grade 1, which points to trouble both in forming 16000-power lines for fighting base 11000 vanguards and even moreso for forming the 18000 lines that crossrides demand. Because drawing a specific grade 1 is the crux on which this opening move rests, and that also means running four copies of a base 6000 grade 1 to maximize the chance to bring out its opening maneuver, it would be better to seek out a different first vanguard entirely even in a dedicated Giraffa deck. Shadow Paladin cardfighters would abandon Fullbau in a heartbeat if they actually had the opportunity to do so; and for Megacolony, a clan which isn't stapled to its evolution as the Shadow Paladins are, that need to find a more consistent and universal first vanguard is very strong.

The answer to this is Megacolony Battler C, a base 5000 grade 0 that moves to the rearguard when a unit of the same clan rides over it. 5000 has been the strongest standardized power available to first vanguards since the fifth booster set, and Battler C's introduction in EB03: Cavalry of Black Steel cements him as the most consistent source of opening advantage that we'll see from Megacolony. Other than his outrider skill, when an attack that Battler C boosts hits the vanguard, he can counterblast 1 and move to the soul to designate an opponent's rearguard and prevent it from standing in their next stand phase. While it comes at the cost of his extra card, these enforced rest skills are important. With them, you can deny the opponent the use of a boosting or attacking unit for the turn, and if they choose to call a unit to replace the rested unit instead of wait for their next turn, then you've just achieved Blaster Blade's vanguard skill for cheap.

Concerning Megacolony's trigger distribution, until the release of EB01: Comic Style Vol. 1 they have at least one enforced stand trigger at all times, mandating a rainbow spread of heal-draw-critical-stand. One way to answer this until that time is to take advantage of their second stand trigger from EB03, Awaking Dragonfly, and run between five and eight stands. In general, any trigger configuration will surpass running 4/4/4/4, so even 4/4/3/5 will play more cohesively. Despite the pro scene's exaggerated championing of them, critical triggers are ironically the most easily sacrificed of Megacolony's regular lineup, as draw triggers support better consistency as the perfect damage check, while stands can actually compensate for a lack of criticals and actively surprise the opponent.

Speaking of triggers, the main issue with Megacolony's rest abilities is that they can be interrupted by the opponent damage checking a stand trigger. In Battler C's case in particular, the resolution of the damage check will take place before his skill activates, so whichever unit the opponent stands will not be impacted by his skill if it is targeted because the unit is already standing, so it does not need to be stood in the stand phase. In another example, if Battler C's skill was triggered through a previous attack and the opponent damage checked a stand trigger after a following one, they could still stand the unit that C had targeted, effectively wasting both your loss of card and counterblast. Because of the disruptive nature of stand triggers and self-standing skills to Megacolony, Nova Grappler is the clan's natural enemy.

Moving into the grade 1s, Pupa Mutant's skill follows up Larva Mutant's. When he's called to the rearguard, Pupa Mutant can discard any grade 3 Megacolony to search for Evil Armor General Giraffa, Giraffa's grade 3 form. This is the reason that you may still want to run Pupa Mutant even in a Giraffa deck that doesn't use Larva Mutant, because his rearguard skill allows him to act as a fifth copy of Evil Armor General so long as you already have a grade 3 in hand. And even when you have Giraffa already, the skill can still be valuable for thinning the deck of a nontrigger unit that would otherwise make for a disappointing drive check, trading Giraffa for Giraffa.

Megacolony has a plethora of useful support cards at grade 1. Chronologically, Karma Queen is the earliest, a base 7000 grade 1 that when called or ridden can counterblast 2 to choose an opponent's rearguard and prevent it from standing. In addition to her reasonable power, Karma Queen shares the strengths and weaknesses of Battler C, although her cost is heavy for what it achieves and there are better skills to get this effect out with. Megacolony Battler B is of the same idea, counterblasting 1 when an attack that he boosts hits the vanguard to get the skill off. Because it's an on-hit skill, Battler B encourages early defense from the opponent while weakening their own offensive, but the trade-off to this is that like Pupa Mutant he has just 6000 power, making his endgame difficult to work with in a format where the opponent will eventually be sitting on a 13000 power base.

Gloom Flyman tries to strike a middle ground by trading in a more restrictive skill with a stranger cost. Flyman comes in at a healthy 7000 base like Queen, but when he's placed on the guardian circle he can choose an opponent's grade 0 rearguard and rest it. This is useful for countering cards like Lizard Soldier Saishin or other on-hit grade 0 skills, both denying an earlier attack that the opponent makes by defending early while also locking down one of the boosters that would have been part of another attack, and in turn making that one easier to stop.

Toxic Soldier is the offensive grade 1 of the clan, but rather than gaining power when he attacks, instead he prevents the opponent from intercepting. Since Soldier's 7000 base is limited to forming a 15000 power line with just Phantom Black, this means that it will take the majority of opponents only 5000 shield to stop Soldier, but his skill at least limits what they can defend with by demanding that they must spend that shield from the hand and that an intercept will not be sufficient. Functionally that makes Toxic Soldier an inverse Silent Tom, locking a part of their field defense rather than hand defense. It may be better to seek this kind of skill in his grade 2 equivalent, Toxic Trooper, as Trooper's 9000 base is much more flexible for the front row than Soldier's 7000.

The final grade 1 that we'll discuss today is Stealth Millipede. This is the clan's unique vanguard booster, giving the vanguard line +4000 additional power on top of his base 6000 boost when a specific condition is met. In this case, Millipede wants the opponent's entire field at rest. In most games that condition will be met automatically, as the opponent will want to use their full offense, and if they choose not to rest one of their units then that normally means that they either did not use an attacker or a booster that turn, making them easier to defend against through a psychological battle. Millipede has specific problems against decks with unboostable vanguards like Blaster Blade Burst, as the opponent can freely "store" a standing unit behind their vanguard to prevent the skill from triggering. The 10000 overall boost is very valuable for a strong offense, so at least one copy of Millipede can find a place in every Megacolony deck.

To open grade 2 we have the Giraffa line continuing in. Under most circumstances Elite Mutant Giraffa is an unskilled base 9000 unit, but in the vanguard circle he gains +1000 power as long as Pupa Mutant is in the soul, acting as a fifth Bloody Hercules. In the vanguard circle he also has another skill, that when his attack hits the vanguard he can choose an opponent's rearguard and prevent it from standing, at no extra cost. Since Elite Mutant plays into the greater Giraffa deck not just as a target for Larva Mutant's skill but also as a unit that gives the grade 3 form of Giraffa +1000 power as long as he remains in the soul, this is one card that Giraffa cardfighters will want to run at a four-of naturally, but other Megacolony decks can take advantage of Giraffa as a single copy for the games when he does turn up, opportunistically denying the opponent a booster in their next turn.

Lady Bomb is the grade 2 equivalent to Karma Queen, with the same cost and skill. As with the Toxic Soldier/Trooper example, Bomb's 9000 base makes her easier to recommend than Queen, especially as grade 2s with intercept are easier to get rid of and call other units to replace, but the cost is still hard to justify when Battlers C and B have so much of a better time doing the heavy lifting in keeping the opponent's field quiet. A better use of that counterblast 2 is Water Gang, the clan's Maiden of Libra copy that can pay the cost when his attack hits to draw a card. This is perfect for drawing the opponent's defenses out, encouraging them to declare "no guard" versus the Stealth Millipede-enhanced vanguard column, and it improves a Megacolony deck's consistency by giving them additional draw power.

Tail Joe is the grade 2 counterpart to Millipede. Over an 8000 base, he gains +3000 power during your turn if all of the opponent's rearguards are at rest. That 11000 total is already important for attacking Mandalalord and his contemporaries unassisted, but it's also vital in the crossride format where it forms more stable 18000 power lines and for being able to snipe base 8000 and 9000 grade 2s with Phantom Black, clearing out difficult cards like Viviane and Silent Tom.

There are a couple of ways to approach Megacolony's grade 3s. We've discussed that Evil Armor General Giraffa is already heavily supported, converting from a 10000 to 11000 base when Elite Mutant is in the soul, so with Stealth Millipede there's a simple 21000 line ready to meet most of the right power thresholds. Giraffa's actual skill is deceptively destructive. When his attack hits, he can counterblast 2 and retire two of your own Megacolony rearguards to retire up to two of the opponent's grade 1 or lesser rearguards. This is easily one of the best skills for a vanguard to have in Cardfight, as like previous entries in Megacolony it controls the opponent's boosters for a relatively low cost. Furthermore, as both you and the opponent are taking a -2, the net difference in advantage is unchanged, so as with the Shadow Paladins' "divine move" you can exaggerate the importance of a small lead of just one or two cards into the difference between your opponent's victory and their defeat.

Unlike with Phantom Blaster or the Amber Dragon line, Giraffa's retire skill does not force you to pay it before it actually connects, so it pressures the opponent to put down additional defense without actually committing you to doing anything at all. It also opens the field with the same flexibility as Phantom Blaster Dragon, allowing you to call units that would be unsuitable for long-term commitment. For example, you could call an extra Paralyze Madonna and Raider Mantis that would otherwise be clogging your hand, use them to harass an opponent's intercept, then when Giraffa's attack hits retire them, losing two currently useless units that have already done their part to reduce the opponent's card advantage while taking two very valuable boosting units like Gareth and Tron from the opponent's formation. Another way to support the skill is with Violent Vesper, a Megacolony print of Badhabh Caar that superior calls the top card of the deck when he's ridden or called. While usually this creates an awkward or weak rearguard formation, it does give you that one card lead that you're looking for with Giraffa, who then retires Vesper and his called unit for the same benefits described previously.

While the grade 3s that the clan was introduced with are not as overwhelming as modern releases, Hell Spider and Master Fraude have surprisingly long-lived skills that are still relevant in today's game. When Hell Spider is placed on the vanguard or rearguard circles, he can counterblast 2 to choose an opponent's rearguard and prevent it from standing; and if all of the opponent's vanguard and rearguard units are at rest during your turn, Spider gets +3000 power, forming a 23000 power line with Stealth Millipede that like CoCo, devastates crossride units. Even in a fight that isn't with The End or Blaster Overlord, that +3000 will establish a 21000 power line with Phantom Black, making for a flexible if high maintenance strategy that pushes the opponent into a corner regularly.

Master Fraude is easier to maintain, as he gets his +3000 power boost just from being boosted by a Megacolony. His soulblast 3 lets him draw a card when his attack hits--regardless of whether that attack was against a vanguard or rearguard unit. So to get an early lead with Fraude, you can target a base 8000 rearguard like Tom with a 23000 power vanguard line, putting the opponent behind one card and yourself forward one, then bouncing any triggers you check onto the rearguards. This won't come out every game, but it's useful to keep in mind, as well as that Fraude's soulblast skill is V/R, so even rearguard Master Fraudes and help out.

The final grade 3 that will get our attention here is the clan limit breaker, Martial Arts Mutant Master Beetle. Master Beetle is a base 11000 grade 3 in any of the circles, so he's a natural partner to Giraffa for providing a consistent 11000 power defense and rearguards that can hit 16-8000 power easily. At limit break 4, you can counterblast 3 when he attacks a vanguard to trigger Master Beetle's Gravity Aura, designating two units that the opponent cannot stand in their next stand phase. In a clan with multiple counterblasts and no concrete way of unflipping damage, that's a very heavy price to pay on top of it being susceptible to the usual problems surrounding stand triggers and skills, so Master Beetle should mainly be paid attention to as a consistent defense with his limit break as a last-ditch comeback in an uphill battle. The limit break is useful for slowing down the pace of the game, allowing you to wrest control back from the opponent, but it's unlikely to be the main goal of your deck.

Next time that we revisit Megacolony, I'll be exploring the Machining subgroup introduced in Extra Booster 1: Comic Style Vol. 1 and how converting Megacolony into a soul-based deck modifies their core strategy.