Saturday, April 6, 2013

Study Guide: Aqua Force

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
Once-unrivaled among the clans, Aqua Force is known as a legendary navy whose admiral sought to unite all of Cray under a single banner. Comprised of workeroid, battleroid and mermaid footsoldiers, and led by a secretariat of ancient Tear Dragons, the Aqua Force builds its strategy out of manipulating the battle phase to activate key skills at the first, second, third and fourth attacks of the turn. And like Shadow Paladin, the Force is a clan that we have had the opportunity to see unfold card-by-card. This makes them easier to study than some of their contemporaries, building the deck with each new card of the day to come out.

At their introduction in TD07: Descendants of the Marine Emperor on April 19th, there is no standard first vanguard for the clan. Officer Cadet of the First Battle will fill the position temporarily, but be aware that the FVG slot is something that the Force has never quite settled on a stable unit for. Each coming set will introduce new potential first vanguards, but which one actually suits you as a fighter will require heavy experimentation. The trigger bases for this clan are the standard 4 Heal, 4 Draw, 4 Critical, 4 Stand that we've been seeing from past trial decks, but do note that the battle phase manipulation means that stand triggers have more precedence than in other clans, so you won't necessarily be ditching them at the first opportunity.

The key grade 1s from TD07 are Battle Siren Dorothea, Accelerated Commando and Splash Assault. Dorothea is AquaFo's 10000-power vanguard support. Over a 6000 base, her +4000 skill activates when she boosts an Aqua Force vanguard during the third or more battle of the turn. This makes her an extremely consistent booster, since so long as the vanguard is the last to attack they will always strike for 20000 and above. A basic Aqua Force build can easily run three of her for this consistent line.

Meanwhile, Accelerated Commando is an old card, Starlight Unicorn. Returning to the game here, his +2000 skill has more merit. Part of the Force's battle phase manipulation mechanic is that they have units intended to attack independently at key points, typically with 10-11000 power. The reason that you get more mileage from this skill in the Force than in the Royal Paladins is because of one of the grade 2s introduced by the trial deck, Coral Assault.

Coral gains +3000 power when there are three or more battles in the turn that he attacks. While an 8000 base can be difficult to defend on the opponent's turn, this boost does let him attack 11000-power vanguards unaided, reaching 16000 power with as little as a 5000 boost, and still form a line of the same with the clan's 8000-power booster Theo, when his skill doesn't kick in. Because the wording is "when this unit attacks..." the skill takes place after Assault's attack has been declared, so if his is the third attack of the turn, it will still activate. The way that this combos with Accelerated is that by placing Accelerated's power on Coral, you can have him attack for 21000 with Theo's boost, which will hit those base 11000 units for just the right number to draw a 15000 shield defense out. While not a card that you would run four of, Accelerated Commando can be a useful modification for this reason.

I mentioned before that stand triggers have more precedence for Aqua Force. Coral in particular has good synergy with them, since when a stand trigger is applied to him, Coral's skill will make him attack at the full 16000 power without a booster. There are other ways to stand Coral that we'll get to, but stand triggers produce the best results, so a deck that uses stands will want Coral as its rearguard support.

Going back to the grade 1s, Splash Assault is a type of early game attacker unit. Taking Coral Assault's skill and reworking it onto a 6000-power base, Splash can easily be made into a 9000-power attacker to work with Theo and your grade 1 vanguard on the first turn. His 6000 power can at least work with base 10000 grade 2 or 3s in either of the frontline rearguard circles, but it does have a lesser score than his RoyPala and ShadowPala counterparts, Kay and Gururubau. While the skill would definitely be more effective if it were a base 7000 +2000 skill, it gives Splash the flexibility to go up front when you're short on attacking units, and that 6000 base means that he's an unappealing target for the opponent to waste attacks on. Unlike with Gururubau or Kay, stacking two Splash together wll only yield enough power to fight base 10000 units, so it's not as versatile as the cards that came before it, but two or three can turn out some usable results.

Getting into the grade 2s properly, Marine General of the Restless Tides, Algos is a variation on the Maiden of Libra formula. Unlike other iterations of this skill however, Algos does not have to pay a cost to draw, and the activation window require Algos' attack to hit a vanguard to go through.

The caveat to this is that Algos' attack has to be the fourth or greater attack in the turn. There are a variety of ways to create this scenario; normally you would attack with Algos and another rearguard, then through either stand triggers or your vanguard's skills, stand Argos for the final attack of the turn. But you could also attack with your opposite rearguard, then the vanguard, applying skills to that rearguard column, and then conduct battle with Argos. This makes him flexible, and more likely to connect as the opponent will be worn out by the time Algos rolls around to fight. Inversely, if the opponent recognizes the pattern and tries to compensate by focusing their guards on Algos, then Algos is convincing the opponent to either reach 6 damage more quickly, or to lose their rearguards depending on how you set up the other three attacks of the turn. While it's very hard to trigger now, Algos is going to get much easier to activate in BT08 and BT09, and even if you aren't aiming to use his skill, he can make for a useful decoy to draw the opponent's fire when you need to.

From TD07's grade 3s, Navalgazer Dragon is the clan's first boss unit. Like Coral Assault, his autoskill gives him +3000 power in the third or greater battle of the turn. That makes him an automatic 20000+ power unit with a 7000 supporter, 21000 with Theo's support, and 23000 with Dorothea, whom he combos with nicely. That last number is high enough to strain even crossride units, and Navalgazer will be holding it every turn, so just his autoskill alone is dangerous, regardless of which stage of the game you're triggering it in.

The real focus here is on his limit break 4. For a low cost of counterblast 2, Gazer gets an additional +3000 power to stack on top of his prior boosts, and if his attack hits a vanguard in the third or more battle of the turn, he can stand 2 Aqua Force rearguards. Naturally, this works with Assault and Algos' skills, and the additional +3000 on top of his previous power boost will make a 26000-power line for nailing base 11000 and under units. Since the counterblast 2's power increase is unconditional, it also lets you choose to have Gazer not be the third attack of the turn when you have Theo set up behind him, which frees up your battle phase to conduct more regularly.

Marine General of the Full Tides, Xenophon has taken a lot of fire for what on the surface looks to be a lackluster skillset, but he's definitely the best secondary grade 3 TD07 gives us and a reasonable alternative ride to Navalgazer. Like Gazer, his vanguard skill gives him +3000 power during the third or more attack of the turn. In the rearguard he instead gains +1000 power during the third or greater battle. This is not a bad tradeoff, as if you run for example four Xenophon and four Navalgazer with those three Dorothea from before, any grade 3 that you ride will give you a consistent 23000+ vanguard, an anticrossride number that's none too shabby for a trial deck. In the rearguard Xenophon functionally serves as a grade 3 iteration of Coral Assault, going for 11000 independently and 16000 with a stand trigger, promoting further synergy with Navalgazer's limit break. While Dabid in the same trial deck gets +3000 power in either circle for an on-attack counterblast 1, in a Navalgazer build you generally want your entire damage zone to be reserved for Gazer himself, so that his limit break can be used two to three times in any given game. Xenophon's vanguard +3000 is the better deal because the consistent 21-23000 with either Dorothea or Theo will wear the opponent down severely over many turns, at no extra cost to yourself.

Aqua Force is a very playable clan right out of their trial deck, and with the release of BT08: Blue Storm Armada in May, they're only going to get stronger. Next time I revisit this clan, it will be to discuss BT08's Blue Storm Dragon, Maelstrom, and how the battle phase manipulation finally becomes a cohesive strategy of its own with the Storm Rider series.