Monday, May 27, 2013

Study Guide: Narukami

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
There's a very clear divide in Cardfight's development between what came before BT05 and everything that followed. No card can really be designed the way they were in 2011 when there are cards like Majesty Lord Blaster in the format. Sets that followed explored a rebalancing of the game by basing the early buildup of a match around a preparation and setup period, with most offensive play pushed into the last fourth of any given game by the limit break mechanic. Narukami, as one of the first clans to be created specifically around the idea of a limit break boss card, is effectively a reimagining of Kagerou with a more concentrated and consequently less freeform play style. This clan is characterized by its front row control and blocking of the opponent's intercepts, generally contrasted with Kagerou's back row control and self-standing skills, although their card pools do overlap.

Out of BT06: Breaker of Limits Narukami has two first vanguards available, Lizard Soldier Saishin and Spark Kid Dragoon. Saishin is the clan's unique FVG, a base 5000 grade 0 with the Forerunner skill that allows it to move into the rearguard when ridden over with a grade 1 of the same clan, and his unique skill is to counterblast 1 and move to the soul when an attack that he boosts hits the vanguard to retire an opponent's grade 0 rearguard. Saishin's skill decreases the card advantage that you gained from having him outride, but it also decreases the opponent's in the same move while locking them out of their FVG's skills. The idea behind this is that in addition to countering the opponent's skills, Saishin also decreases the total number of cards in play after you have already gained an advantage through other means like draw triggers or forcing defense from the opponent, stressing the importance of your existing lead. This is virtually the same skill as Gattling Claw Dragon but it comes built into your play from the opening of the game. The main disadvantage is that it puts the power to decide whether the attack will go through or not in the opponent's hands. In general it is a bad idea to give control over to the opponent at any point in the game, and this is why Saishin is generally placed behind the vanguard line, as your drive check can still break through their defense. Note that it is not necessarily bad for the attack to not go through. If the opponent spends cards defending Saishin's boost, then they're losing advantage and weakening their own ability to stop your attacks later in the game, when Narukami is at its strongest.

Spark Kid Dragoon is less impressive. He shares the Forerunner skill, but this is over a 4000 base, so automatically he has more trouble than Conroe in forming a basic 15-16000 line. His skill is a replica of Bermuda Triangle Cadet Shizuku's, to counterblast 1 in the main phase, move to the soul and look through the top five cards of the deck for a grade 3 of the same clan. This skill is usually not favored by professional cardfighters because of its unreliability, as it usually leads to losing Spark Kid and a counterblast with no grade 3 found, and Saishin himself counters Spark Kid. However, it is worth recognizing that within this specific clan Spark Kid is generally favored both within Japan and on a global scale; of the 34 pro cardfighters that use Narukami worldwide as of May 2013, 23 use Spark Kid Dragoon as their FVG. Japanese cardfighters that have used the standard Narukami build that we will be discussing in this module tended toward Saishin, while other builds used Spark Kid. Meanwhile English-speaking pros using the same standard build all ran Spark Kid during the 2012 World Championships. Experiment, and find a first vanguard that plays to your own strengths.

The key grade 1s for the original Narukami are Desert Gunner Raien, Photon Bomber Wyvern and Rising Phoenix. Raien is a base 7000 grade 1 that when ridden or called, chooses an opponent's rearguard and prevents it from intercepting. The 7000 base is welcome in the crossride format that Narukami was originally designed for, and this effectively locks the opponent out of 5-10000 shield at no cost. Interestingly, the Desert Gunner series also has provisions for the future. Even if a future card had a skill that allowed it to intercept from the back row, Raien could still block that from activating.

Bomber Wyvern is the clan's 10000-power booster. Coming in with a 6000 base, Photon Bomber Wyvern can give +4000 additional power when he boosts a Narukami vanguard if the opponent has three or more cards in their damage zone. Narukami has a variety of 11000-power units available, so this means that the vanguard line will generally be going for 21000 power to run over the opponent with a line that consistently needs a minimum of 20000 shield to defend safely. Because of his value to Narukami's offense and being one of the chief cards that differentiates from Kagerou's play, Photon Bomber is typically run at two to four copies, with most pros leaning towards four. This ensures not just being able to get him out consistently but also that if the opponent drops Kimnara, Gwynn the Ripper or another retire skill on him, Bomber can be easily replaced.

Rising Phoenix has just 5000 power, but when called can soulblast 1 to draw a card. As stated before, Narukami has multiple 11000 power units to pair that with, and as Narukami generally leans toward critical triggers and doesn't have a lot of heavy draw power from skills, Phoenix helps to make up the difference.

The clan's important grade 2s are Demonic Dragon Berserker Garuda, Desert Gunner Shiden, Dragonic Deathscythe and Hex Cannon Wyvern. Garuda is Narukami's Storm, a base 9000 grade 2 that can unflip one damage when his attack hits. This makes him an excellent midgame unit and filling the front row with him early on can guarantee a combo attack with Saishin. When the attack hits, first you resolve Saishin's skill with his counterblast and move him to the soul to retire the opponent's first vanguard, then you unflip that damage with Garuda's skill to save your damage zone for the things to come.

The focus on unflipping its damage is another factor that differentiates them from Kagerou in terms of play style if not card pool, as where Kagerou would prefer the stability of Nehalem's 10000 power base or Burning Horn Dragon's on-attack +3000, Narukami likes to have access to rapid unflipping in order to manage their damage zone and reuse costly skills. Deathscythe is another reason to run Garuda, being the Narukami equivalent to Berserk Dragon. On-ride or on-call you can counterblast 2 with Deathscythe to retire an opponent's grade 2 or lesser rearguard, improving both front row and backrow control, and you can even reverse the Garuda combo to use him in the same turn as Saishin. First you ride Garuda, then you call Deathscythe and counterblast 2 for his skill, then attack with Garuda, and when the attack hits you unflip one damage with the Dragon Berserker's skill, then pay Saishin's cost with your newly-unflipped damage.

Shiden is the grade 2 equivalent to Raien, clocking in at 9000 power and sharing Raien's ability to block the opponent's intercepts. Hex Cannon Wyvern has the lowest power of its grade at just 8000, but when it attacks and the opponent has three or more cards in their damage zone it gains +3000 power, so you can easily form anticrossride 18000 power lines or have a 21000 offensive vanguard by comboing this with Photon Bomber even if you're forced to set through one turn of grade lock.

There are two main grade 3s designed to be at the forefront of the clan's original play. Thunder Break Dragon has just 10000 power, and when placed on the vanguard circle can counterblast 2 to retire one of the opponent's grade 2 or lesser rearguards. This is effectively a watered down Deathscythe without a rearguard skill, and many fighters today would consider it underwhelming, but Thunder Break was originally a surprise at release because he was among the first units to make use of limit break. At limit break 4, Thunder Break gets +5000 power when he attacks, allowing for a consistent 21-23000 power line from four damage onward, 25000 with Photon Bomber Wyvern. Thunder Break also has his own custom booster, the grade 1 Dragon Dancer RaiRai. She has just 6000 power and like Charjgal can soulblast 1 when boosting Thunder Break to give him +5000 power, creating a consistent 26000-power vanguard line or a 21000-power Break rearguard, but this has its problems. Most limit breakers that get +5000 power on-attack have a unique call skill---Garmore superior calls from the deck, Cocytus calls from the drop zone, Kiriel from the damage zone, and so on. Thunder Break has a powerful booster, but no way to search her out as Garmore or Kiriel do, and he has no support cards that can search her out like those cards do. Furthermore, it's typically better to reserve that counterblast for real Deathscythes or for a different limit break. A better use of the slots that Thunder Break would be taking up would be using Djinn of the Lightning Flash, who like Break is a 10000 power grade 3, but Break gets +4000 power when he attacks all the time, so that he will always go for a crossride-busting 24000 power with Bomber Wyvern, and even in the rearguard Lightning Flash gets +2000 power on-attack to form a 20000 line with the base 8000 Red River Dragoon or otherwise making a simple 18000 line. Lightning Flash's continuous skill prevents him from attacking rearguards, but giving you Amaterasu-level power even when you miss your intended grade 3 ride makes him a better alternative to Thunder Break.

Narukami's boss card is Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion. Vermillion is the first of many 11000 power grade 3s to come, and his limit break is one of the better early uses of the mechanic in the game. At LB4 Kaiser Vermillion can counterblast 3 to activate his Vermillion Thunderbolt; he gets +2000 power until the end of the turn and battles all of the opponent's front row units when he attacks. (Keep in mind that like Dragonic Overlord, this skill has to be activated in the main phase, before you attack.) Having 13000 power lets him go for 21000 with Red River and 23000 with Photon Bomber, both key numbers in the various competitive formats. The mechanics of this limit break prevent the opponent from intercepting when Kaiser Vermillion attacks, and each unit must be guarded individually. Even a perfect defense card can only defend one unit. Because you want Vermillion to attack first when he uses this, stand triggers are not recommended in the deck, as attacking with a rearguard first is a misplay that the opponent will almost certainly intercept against to mitigate the impact of Vermillion's limit break while getting some use out of their remaining shield. As long as they have a full front row when Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion attacks, the opponent will start out taking a -2 and the decrease in advantage will only progress further from there. Because it is an expensive CB3, Garuda is essential for maintaining open damage, and getting the timing right is key to playing Vermillion skillfully.

Just because you're at four damage doesn't necessarily mean that this is the right time to use the skill, however. If for example, you're facing an Aqua Force cardfighter and their front row aside from their vanguard is a Penguin Soldier and Tri-holl Dracokid, it would generally be better to wait out the next turn and then use the limit break to take out more important units.

Narukami's play style is to strike like lightning and disappear like thunder. Your front row should be relatively uniform, without any weaknesses. The deck is straightforward to build because it does not rely on a lot of techs like Shadow Paladin nor does it even have the ability to manage them like Oracle Think Tank. However, because of this uniform and inflexible style, the clan is easy to learn and hard to master. You can't go in throwing out every skill at the first opportunity. A Narukami cardfighter has to know exactly when and where to pull out each card's skill, because there will be fights where you never want to use certain skills. Contrast this to Kagerou, which generally does not have mistiming issues and has very little reason to not use its skills; there is never a bad time to activate The End's persona blast when you are able to do so, nor is there a bad time to use Goku's retire skill.

The main problem faced by Narukami is that their strength stops with Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion. Until very late in development, this and Photon Bomber had been their lone concrete advantage over Kagerou, as Saishin's skill was already available through Gattling Claw Dragon with less conditions attached and a more flexible first vanguard available for the slot. It's certainly difficult to compare them favorably at their original release, but as we branch out into later sets and Narukami further differentiates itself as a clan, their individuals strengths should become more apparent.

Thirty-four pros use this clan.