Sunday, March 30, 2014

Feature: Interview with Former Japanese National Champion Kokubo Hikaru

On August 22nd 2013, Dengeki Online published an interview with Kokubo Hikaru, at the time the reigning Japanese national champion and the first Pale Moon cardfighter to ever hold the title. The interview was conducted as part of comprehensive coverage of Bushiroad's events, and was done alongside other interviews with the winners from the Weiss Schwarz, Chaos and Victory Spark tournaments. As the state of the English card game is now firmly in the BT12-on format Kokubo became champion in, his strategies are increasingly relevant for international cardfighters. Below is a translation of his interview, held on the 11th of that year following the national championships.
Kokubo v. Uemura Shouhei, FR2013 finals. Image source.
Interview with the Champion, Kokubo Hikaru/優勝した小久保光さんにインタビュー
What was the reason for your victory?
"During the Swiss rounds I had an opponent who lost because of a problem with riding and I won because of that, but I wonder if that momentary opportunity was a good thing or not."
What is your most used card?
"I think it's "Purple Trapezist." I'm grateful to have this PR card around."
The WGP (World Grand Prix) is already beginning, but how would you challenge it?
"Without changing anything for the future, I would do it using the Pale Moon that I love. This clan is really strong!"

The "riding problem" that Kokubo identified is the everpresent fear of what has been called gradelock or misriding in the English game, where a cardfighter is unable to reach grade 1, 2 or 3 at the right moment and spends a turn or more behind the opponent. Winning by way the opponent being gradelocked has been a source of conflict around the world, as many fighters both professional and otherwise consider gradelock the game's worst aspect because of how it prevents one from putting up an effective fight, and thus the wins are felt to be illegitimate both by the defeated and the victorious. Particularly in BT10-on formats where grade 1 and 2 10000 and 12000 power attackers are prevalent, gradelock can spell a rapid death sentence with no opportunity to catch up. The deck that never becomes gradelocked has become a holy grail for professional play. However, it should be noted that Kokubo was referring to the Swiss elimination rounds used to determine the top 2 fighters, not the actual game that decided the Japanese national championship.

Kokubo is well known for his Luquier “Я” deck and accompanying strategies, as his major victory with the build came on the heels of the second Tachikawa Vanguard Championship results just days earlier. At the time this confirmed Luquier “Я” for the larger community as one of the best decks of the format, and also brooked a major division in play style. Kokubo Hikaru's Luquier deck was played with four of each Dragon Tamer for crossride consistency, but there was also a strong camp in favor of playing Luquier “Я” with Miracle Pop Eva for a game-changing endgame assault with four to five attacks in the turn that any deck would be hard pressed to survive. Kokubo's decision to focus on his crossride was partially based in the importance of the Dragonic Descendant matchup in Japanese play at the time, which defined the viability of many decks; the difference between base 11000 and 13000 defense was the difference in whether an unboosted Descendant could be guarded for two triggers to pass, or no pass with a single 10000 power shield.