Thursday, May 28, 2015

News: Phantom Blaster Dragon Becomes Most Expensive Card in Game, Touken Ranbu -ONLINE- Playmats, Deckboxes & Sleeves

The Japanese edition of G-BT03: Sovereign Star Dragon went on sale just a few hours ago, and prices from both Japanese auctions and retailers are already stabilizing. Of all the cards in the set, the most alarming is G-BT03's print of Phantom Blaster Dragon; his average selling price has jumped to be the highest single in the game's history, at 5000~7000 yen per card. (approx. $40~56 at the current exchange rate.) This is more than the price of one box of Sovereign Star Dragon, and observations from Japanese buyers are that the inclusion rate of the set's two generation rares is at one of each generation rare per carton--one Phantom Blaster and one Amnesty per every sixteen boxes. If this ratio is true, it would be a massive departure from Generation Stride and Soaring Ascent of Gale & Blossom, where generation rares were distributed at the same rate as triple rares. Lagging behind Phantom Blaster are Amnesty Messiah and Aurageyser Dragon as the second most expensive cards from the set, going for 1500~2000 yen each.

The exorbitant prices for Phantom Blaster are derived from his synergy with multiple different Blaster deck types, including Phantom Blaster “Abyss,” who is generally regarded as the dominant deck of the pre-BT03 format. Both halves of the “Abyss” legion experienced a similar price jump earlier this month. However, running the Phantom breakride in “Abyss” has been brought under severe scrutiny from the first day the Blaster Dragon breakride was revealed. Doing so means surrendering virtually all forms of soulblast support, including Black-winged Swordbreaker and Darkheart Trumpeter. It also means losing access to Blaster Dark Revenger and Revenger “Abyss” for most of the game, neutering Revengers' devastating field control options and ability to shut down a vast number of first vanguard-centric strategies. Other Blaster decks are also on the rise, with triple rare playsets of Phantom Blaster Overlord reaching a 2000 yen high, and Gust Blaster Dragon rising to 1200 yen apiece.

In other news, Duel Portal, retailers Cardshop Ogre and Card Kingdom have all revealed merchandise for G-Title Booster 01: Touken Ranbu -ONLINE-, including eight character-specific sleeves from Bushiroad's Mini Sleeve Collection and several deckboxes. Six playmat designs (pictured below) are also being produced for the set, intended to double as mousepads. The Touken Ranbu booster was originally announced as an April Fool's joke by Bushiroad of Japan, and later clarified to be a real product made in association with DMM and Nitro+. The booster will feature the characters of Touken Ranbu as part of the unique clan "Touken Ranbu," and will be compatible with all of the cards produced in the existing Cardfight!! Vanguard trading card game.

While the booster set has been designed to attract a new audience to Vanguard, fan reactions across the globe have been mixed. Some fans have expressed displeasure with devoting a booster set to what has been described as an opposite gender counterpart to Bermuda Triangle, when that space could be devoted to an existing clan. Others have criticized the Touken Ranbu clan as being out of place in the greater context of Cardfight!! Vanguard's world, particularly with respect to the planet Cray. But still other fans find an appeal to the cross-promotion that would otherwise be absent from the game, and in Japan boxes of the title booster have already been promised as prizes at several upcoming VGCS tournaments.

The set's status in English-speaking countries is unknown, as DMM lacks an international presence and licensing the set for the western market could prove difficult. Bushiroad Inc. does have experience with bringing over these types of properties in its older card game Weiβ Schwarz, but the possibility remains that one of Cardfight!! Vanguard's clans will remain exclusive to the Japanese edition. Touken Ranbu -ONLINE- will go on sale in Japan on July 17th.

Today's article was made possible by the donations of our patrons at Patreon. Cardfight Pro is funded by public contributions from readers like you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

News: Glendios and Tsukuyomi Promo Sleeves, Weekly Broadcast Features Murakumo/Kagerou Fight

This morning Bushiroad of Japan's weekly information bulletin guest starred seiyuu Morishima Shuuta (voice of Nitta Shin) and Yanagita Junichi (voice of Anjou Mamoru) in a featured fight between Shin's Yasuie and Mamoru's Dragonic Blademaster decks. The broadcast also revealed two upcoming promotional sleeves from the Get! Treasure Campaign, featuring Deity of the Evening Moon Tsukuyomi and Death Star-vader “∞” Glendios from G-FC01: Fighter's Collection 2015. The sleeves will go out in early June. Doctor O also took the opportunity to introduce several cards for both Murakumo and Kagerou from Sovereign Star Dragon, but these announcements were preempted three hours earlier by Japanese fans leaking the remaining cards of the set, much to the company's chagrin. The full video of the broadcast, including the fight, is presented below.

(Note that there is an audio desynch in the below video, and a brief interruption at the 43 minute mark. This is a consequence of recording the broadcast as it was originally airing.)

The fight between Morishima and Yanagita begins at 13:08 (standup at 15:44) in the video and ends at 48:28. The decklists used by them are provided below. Yanagita checked more triggers overall than Morishima, giving him considerable freedom with the use of his hand and taking early damage. Morishima initially got more setup off of striding first, superior calling two copies of his first vanguard Onifundou with Yasuie's skill and using two of their soulblast skills to return them to hand to gain 20000 shield, while also calling a unit from the top three cards of the deck to replace them. (This would be a net +4, but the replacement units called by the Onifundou copies return to the bottom of the deck at the end of the turn, mitigating it down to a net +2; Morishima averted this by calling Cat Devil with Onifundou and putting it into soul, still taking the negative but gaining soul that could be used for his remaining Onifundou next turn. Making his third turn a +2 in card advantage overall, discounting draw triggers.)

Yanagita retaliated with Blademaster's on-stride skill to retire the booster Ataka, comboing this to his rearguard Soheyl's autoskill to give him +5000 power. (As this only activates when a rearguard in the same column is put into the drop zone, later retires were not applicable to Soheyl.) Using the stride Divine Dragon Knight Mustafa, he then retired Tokubei and gave Mustafa an on-hit unflip. With Twilight Arrow's counterblast, Yanagita then retired the Onifundou that remained on the field, neutralizing the advantage Morishima had built up in the previous turn. Yanagita then forced him to five damage in that turn, and with only one unit in play, to meet the conditions for Homura Raider during the stride step Morishima was forced to clone his draw trigger Cat Rouge. And when Morishima attempted to go on the offensive, Yanagita guarded with the promo card Lizard Soldier Belogue--Belogue's skill allows it to retire an opponent's rested rearguard during the guard step if the guard is successful, meaning that Yanagita could completely nullify Homura Raider's skill by retiring one of the rested Cat Rogues, preventing Homura Raider from returning three units with the same name to the deck and restanding. Since Homura Raider had already received drive check -1 from its own skill, it wouldn't even get a single triple drive, let alone four drive checks; retiring Cat Rogue would incur a net -4 for the entire turn against Morishima. Morishima-as-Shin had to beg Yanagita-as-Mamoru not to do it in order for them to show Homura Raider's skill on camera, illustrating the vast disparity in support between Kagerou and Murakumo.

Yanagita obliged, retiring Fujino and using a Protect Orb Dragon to achieve perfect defense against Homura Raider. Although Morishima enjoyed a brief window with which to win the game on his second twin drive, failing to check a critical trigger prevented him from sealing it, causing Yanagita to win on his following turn.

Morishima's game was incredibly skillful overall. By standing his boosters and giving them power with his stand triggers, he was better able to take advantage of Ushimitsu Train's double superior call to clone Tokubei twice. His main misplay was fielding and then targeting units which only had one or less copies remaining in deck, in this case Nyudo Cloud. Doing otherwise would have given him two attacks, one for 12000 power and another 34000 power. His second was in using Fujino to attack the vanguard instead of the rearguard, exposing him to Belogue's skill, which otherwise can't be used while protecting rearguards. However, in general there was little else that could be done on his end of the game to fight back once Yanagita swung the game in his favor with Mustafa, Twilight Arrow and Soheyl. Making his one opening in the opponent's defenses with Homura Raider's second attack was his one chance to end the game.

Doctor O proceeded with an overview of several cards from Sovereign Star Dragon, including Dragon Knight Emad, Mustafa, Homura Raider and Hidden Scroll. However, all of these units were already spoiled by this time thanks to fan efforts. After a brief overview of the currently ongoing Cardfight!! Vanguard G the above sleeves were unveiled, and Doctor O closed out the broadcast alongside his guests imploring viewers to "Ride KYUN Vanguard!"

Almost seventeen thousand people tuned in to view the live broadcast during its run. Bushiroad's weekly information bulletins air every Tuesday evening at 8:00 PM Japanese Standard Time. They first began in late January to accommodate a new information distribution model for Cardfight!! Vanguard G, as the amount of card information covered in Monthly Bushiroad magazine decreased and was redirected to other routes of distribution. The previous week's broadcast introduced Spear Cross Dragon and several other units from Sovereign Star Dragon, and the week before covered Deletor cards from the same set. Next week's episode will be a special G-BT03 release party guest starring Ishii Mark, seiyuu for Shindou Chrono.

Today's article was made possible by the donations of our patrons at Patreon. Cardfight Pro is funded by public contributions from readers like you.

Morishima Shuuta's deck: Murakumo
Grade 4 (Generation Zone)
x4 Ambush Demonic Stealth Dragon, Homura Raider
x2 Ambush Demonic Stealth Beast, Ushimitsu Train
x2 Ambush Demonic Stealth Rogue, Kagamijin
Grade 3
x4 Fathoming Stealth Rogue, Yasuie
x3 Stealth Fiend, Nyudo Cloud
Grade 2
x4 Stealth Dragon, Rune Star
x4 Hanagasa Stealth Rogue, Fujino
x2 Overseas Stealth Ogre, Tokubei
Grade 1
x4 Gateway Stealth Rogue, Ataka
x4 Stealth Fiend, White Heron (G-Sentinel)
x4 Stealth Fiend, Lake Diver
x2 Stealth Fiend, Oborocart
Grade 0
x3 Kusarigama Stealth Rogue, Onifundou (FV)
x4 Stealth Beast, Cat Rogue DT
x4 Stealth Fiend, River Child HT
x4 Stealth Beast, Cat Devil CT
x4 Stealth Dragon, Hiden Scroll ST

Yanagita Junichi's deck: Kagerou
Grade 4 (Generation Zone)
x4 Divine Dragon Knight, Mustafa
x2 Imperial Flame Dragon King, Root Flare Dragon
x2 Divine Dragon Knight, Mahmud
Grade 3
x4 Dragonic Blademaster
x4 Dragon Knight, Soheyl
Grade 2
x2 Wyvern Strike, Doha
x3 Dragon Knight, Emad
x3 Dragon Knight, Tanaz
x3 Twilight Arrow Dragon
Grade 1
x4 Protect Orb Dragon (G-Sentinel)
x2 Lizard Soldier, Belogue
x4 Lava Flow Dragon
x3 Dragon Monk Gyokuryu
x1 Wyvern Strike, Garan
Grade 0
x1 Wyvernkid Ragla (FV)
x4 Dragon Knight, Jannat CT
x4 Gattling Claw Dragon DT
x4 Magnum Shot Dracokid CT
x4 Mother Orb Dragon HT

Today's Card Analysis: Contemptuous Knight, Ghiva

"I don't need you. Because you're useless now."

The Japanese card of the day is one of the rebel Shadow Paladins from G-BT03: Sovereign Star Dragon, the Contemptuous Knight Ghiva. A single rare support card for Claret Sword and Aurageyser Dragon, Ghiva revives the skill of Skull Witch Nemain from BT04: Eclipse of Illusionary Shadows as a generation break. In exchange for her slower startup time, Ghiva has a higher base power that can form a 16000-power lane with either a grade 1 superior called by Claret Sword, or with the 9000-power booster Hard Fighting Knight Claudas. Unlike other draw support cards Starlight Hedgehog and Flying Librarian, Ghiva's 7000 power base actually prevents her from forming a 16000-power column with Black Sage Charon or Diligent Knight Matholwch. Night Sky Eagle from the same set becomes an 11000-power grade 1 in the turn that it's called, and this card can be used to make Ghiva jump over the 16000-power threshold, but her low base power relative to the type of skill she carries brings with it several obstacles to Ghiva's success.

AUTO: Generation break 1: [Counterblast 1, choose a card from your hand, discard it] When this unit is called to a rearguard circle, you may pay the cost. If you do, draw two cards.

As a whole, Ghiva's base power is not quite high enough compared to Nemain to justify the generation break conditions. Unlike Flying Librarian, there are no conditions under which Ghiva will countercharge the damage she counterblasted. Moreover, one of the primary reasons to run Nemain in the original Shadow Paladin deck was that if a grade 1 and 2 were already in hand, Nemain could be kept in the opening draw instead of redrawing her because she filtered through more cards than would have been seen had she been sent back to the deck. Because Ghiva requires being at generation break before she can be used, she has zero early game utility and the primary benefit of her 7000 power base is being marginally less weak than Nemain while defending. This is a dubious benefit. The difference between 3000 and 7000 power is the difference between being assailed with trigger units versus grade 1s, and it also means that 10000-power subclan attackers like Transient Revenger Masquerade only require 5000 rather than 10000 shield to block.

But in the present generation break format, subclan attackers are generally run by just two decks--Phantom Blaster “Abyss” and Thing Saver Dragon. While those decks do account for a significant portion of professional play, neither of them want to commit a large number of trigger units to the field versus Shadow Paladin decks because of the danger of being hit with a “Diablo” stride and not having the hand to block it. Moreover, Thing Saver's subclan attackers are not effective early game because they are Jewel Knight subclan attackers that require a nearly-full field to function. Thus the primary disadvantage to running Nemain (riding her) has already been negated by aspects of gameplay endemic to the LD01-on format. The general reluctance to commit field at a fast pace versus any deck running the “Diablo” stride enables weaker cards like Nemain to function, as opponents have next to no hope of playing short games versus Shadow Paladin decks.

Both units synergize strongly with Aurageyser's Ildona-like skill, albeit at the disadvantage of costing counterblast in an already counterblast-intensive deck. Of the two, Nemain is the much more effective card in the early game, where her primary role is to fix bad hands and trade trigger units for useable rearguards while also getting the cards in hand you need for your stride combos. However, she's considerably weak in the mid to endgame, where her 3000 power base works against her even with Claret Sword's power bonus on her booster. Ghiva is more effective at forming real lanes that can draw 10000-and-greater shield out of an opponent. The cards do not have to be mutually exclusive to one another. Running the minimum number of Nemain to help secure initial setup can help sustain Claret Sword, and from there on out a playset of Ghiva can take over once your generation breaks are online.

Ghiva has also been subject to a widespread mistranslation. Originally propagated by the Cardfight Wiki, and likely owing to putting her name through Google Translate, this translation comes from interpreting mokusatsu (黙殺) as "smother," However, the smother translation comes from a dictionary definition "smothering a conversation." The real meaning of mokusatsu is akin to the phrase "I won't even dignify that statement with a response." It is a silence that indicates refusal to comment on something, rudely stoic behavior, and holding a statement in contempt. Ghiva's counterpart in this regard is Knight of Silence Gallatin, who is instead chinmoku (沈黙) indicating reticence and taciturnity. (Note that mokusatsu and chinmoku come from the same root word moku 黙) At her best, Ghiva is a Silent Knight; at her worst, a Contemptuous Knight.

News: Manga Volume 6 Goes on Sale

Today shipments of Vertical Inc.'s Cardfight!! Vanguard Volume 6 went out to retailers and those that preordered the volume through Amazon . Like its Japanese counterpart, the sixth volume is packaged with a promotional card, Tokura Misaki's Pentagonal Magus. This volume corresponds to the beginning and middle of the Link Joker arc of the anime, introducing Tatsunagi Kourin and Miyaji Academy. The interior cover contains rare illustrations by franchise creator Itou Akira, of Kai Toshiki and Sendou Aichi with Vortex Dragon and Wingal.

Volume 7 will go on sale August 25th 2015, and will star Suzugamori Ren with his Gust Blaster Dragon deck. Gust Blaster is likewise expected to be the promo for the volume, following with the Japanese release structure. Readers can preorder volume 7 through Amazon .

News: Fans Leak Sovereign Star Dragon, Murakumo Restander

This morning an anonymous Japanese retailer broke the street date on G-BT03: Sovereign Star Dragon, enabling fans to spoil the remaining unknown cards in the set online. The major takeaway of the cards revealed is Ambush Demonic Stealth Dragon, Homura Raider; a stride unit that is also Murakumo's first restanding boss card.

ACT (Vanguard circle): [Counterblast 2, choose a face down card named “Ambush Demonic Stealth Dragon, Homura Dragon” in your generation zone, turn it face up] If the number of cards in your generation zone is two or greater, during this turn, this unit gets Drive -1 and "AUTO (Vanguard circle): At the close step of the battle in which this unit attacked a vanguard, choose one of your rearguards, and return three rearguards with the same name as it to the bottom of your deck, if you returned three, stand this unit. Shuffle that deck."

Homura Raider's skill was shown off today in Bushiroad's weekly information bulletin, with the deck being played by seiyuu Morishita Shuuta, the voice of Nitta Shin in the anime series. In his fight, Morishita used the skill by using his other skills to superior call three copies of the draw trigger Cat Rogue and then return them to the deck for Homura's skill, increasing his chances of checking triggers on the second attack. Sovereign Star Dragon will hit in Japan on May 29th, and internationally on July 10th.

Murakumo's other notable cards from the set include their new first vanguard, Onifundou (bottom left) and the stand trigger Hidden Scroll. Onifundou provides a rare opportunity for Murakumo to dig into the deck for a search target for a combo, rather than to clone cards already drawn, while Hidden Scroll can superior call two copies of a card other than himself. Also visible in this image is Neutron Star Lady Gunner, a game-changing support unit for Link Joker's Messiah deck. When ridden or called, her generation break 1 locks one of her own rearguards to lock an opponent's; locking one's own rearguards makes more viable targets for Amnesty Messiah's power and critical skill.

Stealth Rogue, Onifundou
AUTO: Forerunner
AUTO (Rearguard circle): Generation break 1: [Soulblast 1, put this unit into your hand] At the beginning of your main phase, you may pay the cost. If you do, look at up to three cards from the top of your deck, choose up to one of them, call it to a rearguard circle, shuffle that deck, and at the end phase of that turn, put the unit called by this effect on the bottom of your deck.

Stealth Beast, Hidden Scroll
AUTO: Generation break 1: [Put this unit on the top of your deck] When this unit is called to a rearguard circle, you may pay the cost. If you do, choose one of your rearguards other than "Stealth Beast, Hidden Scroll" and search your deck for up to two cards with the same name as that unit, call them to a rearguard circle, shuffle that deck, and at the end phase of that turn, put the units called by this effect on the bottom of your deck.

Neutron Star Lady Gunner/中性子星のレディガンナー
AUTO: Generation break 1: [Choose one of your rearguards and lock it] When this unit is placed on a vanguard or rearguard circle, you may pay the cost. If you do, choose one of your opponent's rearguards and lock it.

The Shadow Paladin cards leaked include new support for the Demon World Castle subclan previously formalized in Requiem at Dusk, ToteWächter and StreitenTurm. ToteWächter is German for Death Watcher (or "Death Watchman") while StreitenTurm is Fighting Tower.

Shadow Paladin has also received specific named support for Claret Sword Dragon, in the Yearning Knight Branwen (哀慕の騎士ブランウェン Aibo no Kishi Buranuen). Branwen is a Steam Breath Dragon copy for Shadow Paladin, filling the stride-enabling gap left by Pitch Black Sage Charon.

AUTO (Rearguard circle): [Choose a grade 3 card from your hand, reveal it] When this unit is called to a rearguard circle from hand, you may pay the cost. If you do, search your deck for up to one grade 3 card with "Claret Sword Dragon" in its card name, put it into your hand, shuffle that deck, and choose a card from your hand, discard it.
CONT [Hand]: When you are paying the cost for stride, this card gets grade +2.

Center top; Star-vader Technitium. Center bottom; Spiral Nebula Fairy.

??? Star-vader, Technitium
AUTO (Rearguard circle): [Choose a card with "Star-vader" in its card name in your hand, discard it] When this unit attacks, if you have a vanguard with "Star-vader" in its card, name you may pay the cost. If paid, during that battle, this unit gets Power +5000 and "AUTO (Rearguard circle) When this unit's attack hits a vanguard, soulcharge 1,  choose a card in your damage zone and turn it face-up."

Spiral Nebula Fairy ??? Girl/渦状星雲のXとし子
AUTO: Forerunner
ACT (Rearguard circle): Generation break 1: [Put this unit into your soul, choose one of your other rearguards and unlock it] Choose one of your opponent's rearguards, lock it.

Center left; Stellar Maker. Center right; Gravity Well Lady Battler. Right; Destiny Dealer.

Stellar Maker
AUTO (Vanguard circle): Generation break 1: When this unit attacks a vanguard, choose two locked cards, unlock them, during that battle this unit gets Power +5000/Critical +1.
AUTO: [Counterblast 1, Soulblast 1] When this unit is placed on the vanguard circle, you may pay the cost. If you do, choose one of your opponent's rearguards and lock it.

Gravity Well Lady Battler
ACT (Rearguard circle): Once per turn: Generation break 1: [Choose one of your rearguards, lock it] During this turn, this until gets Power +4000.

Destiny Dealer
AUTO (Rearguard circle): [Choose a grade 3 card from your hand, reveal it] When this unit is called to a rearguard circle from hand, you may pay the cost. If you do, search your deck for up to one grade 3 card with "Messiah" in its card name, put it into your hand, shuffle that deck, and choose a card from your hand, discard it.
CONT [Hand]: When you are paying the cost for stride, this card gets grade +2.

Heroic Saga Dragon
AUTO (Vanguard circle): Generation break 1: When this unit attacks a vanguard, your opponent may choose one of their own rearguards and retire it, and if they did not retire, during that battle this unit gets Critical +1 and "AUTO (Vanguard circle): At the beginning of your damage step, if the number of guardians is one, choose one of your opponent's guardians, retire it, and that units effects with "cannot be hit" is nullified." 
AUTO: [Counterblast 1, Soulblast 1] When this unit is placed on the vanguard circle, you may pay the cost. If you do, choose one of your opponent's grade 1 or less rearguards and retire it.

Heroic Saga's skill functionally forces the opponent to either retire a unit or not be able to use perfect defense cards. Quintet walls are functionally exempt from having their guard broken, and Heroic Saga will not work if the opponent guards with multiple 10000-power shields.

Every clan included in Sovereign Star Dragon with the exception of Kagerou and Cray Elemental is receiving a G-perfect defense, with the ability to countercharge a damage when guarded with if there is a copy of them in the drop zone. These are, by clan;
Dark Irregulars -  Flag Breaker
Link Joker- Flower Blooming in the Vacuum, Cosmolis
Shadow Paladin - Karma Collector
Murakumo - Stealth Rogue, White Heron
Gold Paladin - Holy Mage, Pryderi

Upper left; Killing Dollmaster. Upper center; Lunatic Masquerade. Bottom left; Werfleder Ordonnaz.

Killing Dollmaster
AUTO (Rearguard circle): [Put this unit into your soul] At the beginning of your main phase, you may pay the cost. If you do, soulcharge 2.

Lunatic Masquerade
CONT (Rearguard circle): Generation break 1: During your turn, if the number of cards in your soul is 6 or more, this unit gets Power +2000, and then if the number if cards in your soul is 10 or more, this unit gets Power +2000.

Werfleder Ordonnaz
AUTO: Forerunner
ACT (Rearguard circle): Generation break 1: [Counterblast 1, put this unit into your soul] Soulcharge 2, if the number of cards in your soul is 6 or more, draw a card.

Sweet Predator
AUTO (Vanguard/Rearguard circle): Generation break 1: During your main phase, when a card is put into your soul, during this turn, this unit gets Power +3000.

While these Dark Irregulars units are disappointing to some--as they come in lieu of an Izaya reprint, or generation break versions of Doreen the Thruster and Izaya that work in any phase--there are some upsides to their introduction. Lunatic Masquerade's +2000 power boosts stack on top of one another so that at the 10+ soul benchmark he has a total +4000 power booster and becomes a permanent 11000-power booster. The advantage to this over Doreen is that the soul count being increased during the battle phase will affect his power, allowing the use of Scoremaker Vampir and Kiskill-Lila to pump him up to that point. Moreover, the later in the game Lunatic is on the field the more effective he is over long stretches compared to Doreen, as he does not require redundant soulcharging to power up.

Dragon Knight, Janat
AUTO (Rearguard circle): [Put this unit into your soul] When your vanguard attacks, if you have a grade 3 or greater vanguard with "Dragonic Blademaster" in its card name, you may pay the cost. If paid, draw a card, choose one of your vanguards, during that battle it gets Power +5000.

Rising Lionet
AUTO (Rearguard circle): Generation break 1: [Put this unit into your soul] When another card is called to a rearguard circle from your deck, you may pay the cost. If you do, during this turn, that unit gets Power +5000 and "AUTO: (Rearguard circle): [Counterblast 1] When this unit's attack hits a vanguard, you may pay the cost. If you do, look at up to three cards from the top of your deck, choose a card from among them, call it to an open rearguard circle, and shuffle that deck."

Today's article was made possible by the donations of our patrons at Patreon. Cardfight Pro is funded by public contributions from readers like you.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Today's Card Analysis: Phantom Blaster Dragon

"O fate, bestow unto me even further despair!"
The Japanese card of the day is an unconventional revival of Shadow Paladin's original boss card, Phantom Blaster Dragon. While the original Phantom languished in disuse for years, this new breakride incarnation of the unit supports multiple different deck types and strategies with divergent bodies of support, giving life to cards both old and new. The Dragon of Hell's second coming is upon us.

AUTO (Limit Break 4): [Soulblast 3] When a <<Shadow Paladin>> rides this unit, you may pay the cost. If paid, choose one of your vanguards, during this turn it gets Power +10000 and "AUTO (Vanguard circle): [Choose three of your rearguards, retire them] When this unit attacks a vanguard, you may pay the cost. If paid, draw two cards, choose three cards from your damage zone and turn them face-up, during that battle, your opponent cannot call grade 1 or greater cards from hand to the guardian circle."
AUTO: [Choose one of your rearguards, retire it] When this unit is placed on the vanguard circle you may pay the cost. If paid, search your deck for up to one card with "Blaster" in its card name, reveal it to your opponent, put it into your hand and shuffle that deck.

Phantom Blaster Dragon can be used with virtually any Shadow Paladin grade 3, but because he searches for Blasters units exclusively he primarily supports the Blaster subclan. It should be noted that the soulblast 3 attached to his breakride is attached to specifically prevent synergy with the clan's mass of soul-based card advantage support, from Black-winged Swordbreaker to Darkheart Trumpeter and Aurageyser Dragon. Running Blaster Dragon means surrendering most if not all of these support cards.

The general properties of Sovereign Star Dragon's Phantom Blaster Dragon are that by blocking grade 1 and greater guardians he answers the primary problem with his past incarnations, being easily blocked by perfect defense cards and special guardians like Rubidium or Guinevere. As a trade-off he has no innate critical skill of his own and instead depends on the grade 3 that you ride to achieve that. The soulblast cost makes it exceedingly difficult to use multiple Phantom Blasters in a game, so unlike with a unit like Daikaiser or Cormack there is no real option to continually threaten an opponent at 3 damage across multiple turns. Instead Phantom Blaster is made as a genuine killing move that will end the game on the turn that he is break ridden.

Considering the Blaster units chronologically, the breakride of Phantom Blaster Dragon conflicts with trying to use his original print from BT04: Eclipse of Illusionary Shadows. Even though their set numbers and skills are different, because the cards have the same name only up to four copies of either unit in combination may be included in a deck, just like with the Dragonic Overlord breakride from Infinite Rebirth. The primary reason one would want to mix the two is to for Eclipse Phantom Blaster Dragon's additional power and critical skill, which can work well in combination with the break ride's perfect defense blocking. However, compared to using Claret Sword Dragon's generation break, the only advantages this holds are that Eclipse Blaster can be searched by Sovereign Blaster, and that the skill can be used twice for a 40000 power critical 3 lane instead of a 31000 power critical 2 lane. With a booster factored in the difference should be that Phantom requires 15000 additional shield to block over Claret Sword Dragon.

The issue of space can be somewhat alleviated with Blaster Javelin, the grade 1 from Shadow Paladin's original series of evolving cards. Javelin's on-call skill allows you to discard a grade 3 Shadow Paladin to search for a unit named Phantom Blaster Dragon, and the breakride is just as eligible for this as the BT04 print. This is the reason Blaster Javelin has jumped up from being worth 20 yen and below to almost 400 yen overnight in Japan. You can run two copies of each Phantom Blaster Dragon, using Javelin to guarantee that you get the breakride in hand, then riding it and retiring Javelin to search for the Eclipse print. The trouble with this is trying to fit Blaster Javelin into the deck, as the breakride benefits from having both Hard Fighting Knight Claudas and Pitch Black Sage Charon in his grade 1 slots.

The card that Phantom Blaster Dragon has really been designed from the ground up to support is his crossride introduced in VG-BT05: Twin Swords Awakening. Searching for any Blaster on-ride assists with getting a copy of Phantom Blaster Overlord in hand, and his on-attack skill turning three damage face-up is meant to be specifically used in combination with Overlord's counterblast 3 persona blast for +10000 power and +1 critical. The timing of both skills is flexible so that they may be resolved in either order like with Dorint and Blaster Dark Revenger, but not inside the resolution of one another. So you can either persona blast with Overlord and then retire three to countercharge the damage to have resources open next turn, or you can use the retire skill first to countercharge the damage necessary for Overlord. The latter is the more likely use of the card; while most crossbreakride decks are characterized by having a central devastating breakride turn followed by several turns with just the crossride's abilities, for Overlord the breakride turn is the final one. Overlord simply doesn't stand on his own.

If you can muster the additional soul for it, Apocalypse Bat can act as a 10000-power booster for Overlord, creating a 41000 power 2 critical center. However, provided that that one soul is Sovereign Phantom Blaster Dragon, functionally the same thing could be accomplished using Claudas as a 9000-power booster while crossridden; a 42000 power center with the same critical. The primary issue with the Overlord build is the sheer number of grade 3s it requires, as the deck has to be up to the task of pulling off a breakride, persona blasting Overlord and striding for several turns to force the opponent to the 4~5 damage range where Overlord can kill.

Pitch Black Sage Charon is an essential card for mitigating the retire costs in Phantom Blaster Dragon decks, as his skill makes him count as two units as long as a grade 3 or greater Blaster vanguard is present. Given that the deck has access to Dark Night Maiden Macha for superior calling, Pitch Black Charon would be at a maximum of three copies, and more likely two. It's easy enough to pull out Charon that he doesn't need to take up too much space on his own.

First vanguard choice is a contentious issue. Bushiroad's Research & Development staff recommended using Fullbau alongside the requisite Blaster Javelin and Blaster Dark units. However, Blaster Javelin is not useful enough on his own to justify dedicating all of the component pieces of the sequence to the deck, and Fullbau ultimately goes off just 46% of the time. Judgebau Revenger is an option since both grade 3 options are Phantom units and he provides another means for searching out Charon, and one that doesn't depend on getting to generation break to pull off Macha.

Creeping Dark Goat would be another good choice for first vanguard, as he helps avoid riding Overlord before the Dragon and goes into the soul before retire skills can usually touch him. Fullbau Brave from the Legend Deck is also an option, since his generation break both returns him to the soul and adds a Blaster unit to hand. By riding Phantom Blaster Dragon and retiring a different rearguard to search for Overlord, then immediately striding with a different grade 3, you can use Brave's counterblast to add the second copy of Overlord needed for the persona blast to hand. This does leave Brave exposed to opposing control decks' skills though, whether that's Gattling Claw, Duskblade or Dragonic Burnout. While that won't interfere with the breakride's soulblast 3 necessarily, it would obstruct multiple breakrides from taking place and interfere with numbers when trying to exploit the crossride offensively with Claudas.

The soulblast cost is the biggest obstacle to using Phantom Blaster Dragon. It directly inhibits synergy with Gust Blaster, who gains power and critical dependent on the number of Blasters in the soul; this prevents Gust from becoming a true win condition capable of sending the opponent from 0 to 6 damage easily. For those that truly want to use Gust there are ways around this, but it's an uphill battle. It requires amassing a filler soul of non-Blaster units, preferably with the draw trigger Howl Owl from the Legend Deck. The Fullbau series is generally considered a prerequisite for Gust because of the lack of grade 1 Blasters; running Blaster Javelin, Dark and Nightmare Painter at their maximum amounts in the deck along with the breakride would all but guarantee the necessary three Blasters in soul to make him a destructive threat, and the only problem remaining is getting two additional filler soul over Fullbau in. This type of strategy also necessitates Charon to reduce the cost of either Phantom or Gust, so that retire 5 can get you the full effects of each.

For Gust that's a 38000 power critical 4 center that must be blocked by 0s and can send the opponent from 2 to 6 in one attack. This last property is the only real reason to want to go through the hoops necessary for Gust, as if the opponent is already at the 4~5 damage range both Overlord and Eclipse Dragon can reach higher center lanes with less complex setup, chiefly thanks to being able to be boosted.

The natural first temptation for Revenger cardfighters--who at this point make up the majority of Shadow Paladin fighters--is to use the breakride with Revenger, Phantom Blaster “Abyss.” Like in the Gust example, both units require a retire 3 cost and that mandates using Charon to reduce the net retire to 5, but there are several factors that dissuade using the breakride with “Abyss.” The soulblast cost preemptively negates “Abyss'” strong early card advantage game, as you lose access to Swordbreaker and Trumpeter, who have been at the forefront of “Abyss'” Judgebau combos. “Abyss” also has to specifically retire Revenger units, so there need to be at least three Revengers in play and Charon must be used as the breakride's sacrifice. Moreover, the effect of "your opponent cannot call grade 1 or greater cards from hand to the guardian circle" only lasts until the end of that battle. To get the skill on the second attack you would have to hit with Judgebau on the first to superior call another Pitch Black Charon and one more unit so that you would be able to pay the breakride cost again after restanding.

However, since the opponent's grade 1 and greater guardians are blocked during that battle and “Abyss” is already attacking for 37000 power with Judgebau's boost, hitting is much easier. The opponent would have to drop ~40000 shield on the first attack for a no-pass and still have a perfect defense and discard target in hand for the second attack. At that point the act of trying to prevent “Abyss” from blocking perfect defense cards on both attacks may require dedicating so many resources that the opponent will be unable to come back from that turn. This still requires losing out on a tremendous portion of “Abyss'” support, and the combo is easily exposed to control tactics because Judgebau cannot be used until the breakride turn. Rather than ever needing to drop that amount of shield, opposing Revenger fighters can easily prevent it by retiring Judgebau with Blaster Dark Revenger “Abyss.” Ultimately using “Abyss” with Phantom Blaster Dragon is so much trouble that it's likely not worth the effort.

The final Blaster unit to consider is the breakride itself. Riding the generation rare over himself can be done as an alternative to Aurageyser to force the opponent to go to a high damage threshold where Overlord can seal the game, as while Aurageyser can attack for 36000 power unboosted and get a net +1 from retiring Charon, he can still be blocked by perfect defense card to avoid going to that threshold in the first place. The soul math for planning out a breakride over the breakride and then with Overlord is the same as for Thing Saver Dragon or The Dark Dictator; you need a minimum of 5 soul to do it because when you do your second breakride the second Phantom Blaster Dragon you rode will become soul as well. Having to ride a grade 3, retire three rearguards and then drawing two cards off of Blaster Dragon works out to a net -2 overall, which can be refunded using Macha and other counterblast units that will capitalize on his unflipping properties. Charon can reduce it to a -1. If you can't get to at least 6 soul with Howl Owl then you ultimately come 1000 power short of making a 41000+ power line with Overlord and Claudas later, which can be just enough for the opponent to guard the final turn. But using Dragon to force them to higher damage also gives you two opportunities to retire a rearguard and search for a copy of Overlord, getting both the breakride and persona blast in hand for later.

Blaster Dark “Diablo” can be break ridden over Blaster Dragon while still benefiting from Charon, but this is not especially advisable. “Diablo” has no real card effects of his own, and if you stride over him you then lose the skills given by the breakride. The main reason to use “Diablo” is to pay the cost of stride, as you can use Charon's skill to reveal a grade 3 and search for “Diablo,” then discard a non-grade 3 unit to resolve Charon and later discard the copy of Blaster Dark for stride. You can also use a Blaster Javelin exploit with this; if you start with Blaster Overlord in hand you can use Charon to search out “Diablo,” then use Javelin to discard “Diablo” and search for Blaster Dragon. When you ride Blaster Dragon you can then retire Javelin to search for a second copy of Overlord, completing the setup for the breakride and persona blast.

As for non-Blaster units, Dragruler Phantom makes a particularly strong case for himself. Dragruler differentiates himself from the other grade 3s in that he genuinely has the highest possible power threshold of any unit that can breakride over Phantom Blaster Dragon. By repeating his limit break until the opponent is at five damage--or until you are simply out of counterblast--it's possible to make Dragruler attack for up to 71000 power unboosted, 81000 power with Eloquence Revenger Glonn or Branbau Revenger. Since Dragruler ensures that the opponent is always one point away from death, attacking with him breakridden for 81000 is functionally the same as attacking with Overlord for 42000 while they are at four to five. The biggest difference is that it's possible to get a sixth damage heal out of Dragruler's attack, while if Overlord connects the opponent will usually be going to seven damage and have to get two consecutive heal triggers to survive. The problem with this setup is that it requires even more resources and setup than “Abyss;” ten Revenger rearguards to retire and three units for Blaster Dragon, and Glonn. Dragruler is much more a theoretical scenario than he is a real strategy at this time.

The final way to consider using Phantom Blaster Dragon is with the Witch subclan. Like with Dragruler this carries the downside that none of these ride targets can be searched by the breakride, but the reason to do it is for either Cultus Witch Rias or for Witch of Quests Securna. Securna's retire skill decreases the opposing vanguard's power by -5000, and Rias' on-legion skill can reduce it by up to -25000 power, which greatly exacerbates the problems with not being able to use grade 1+ guardians. However, this is extremely dependent on getting the opponent to five damage, as the Witch subclan has no additional critical vanguards. Only time will tell if G-BT03 will introduced other grade 3s that work well with Blaster Dragon, but there's a very diverse body of options available at this time.

As has been demonstrated, the major obstacles to Phantom Blaster Dragon's success are the stringent soul conditions and the necessity of keeping and using multiple grade 3s. The introduction of a Steam Breath Dragon clone to the clan in Sovereign Star Dragon may alleviate this, provided that it happens at all. Claret Sword is considered likely to receive this type of stride enabler, and it would help the Blaster deck immensely if it could co-opts the grade +2 skill to stride prior to limit break becoming active. The soulblast makes for less of a disconnect between Phantom Blaster and his original counterpart Soul Saver Dragon, as well as to Phantom Blaster and his form as the guardian dragon Thing Saver. The emptying of the soul into the drop zone also makes an elegant parallel against Majesty Lord Blaster and Religious Soul Saver's soul-squatting gameplay. But it is also the greatest obstacle to Blaster Dragon's success, and needs to be planned around carefully based on what type of deck you want to run with it. Be sure to read the card's lore at Arkadiaworks.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Set Review: Soaring Ascent of Gale & Blossom

Tomorrow on May 22nd, G-BT02: Soaring Ascent of Gale & Blossom will hit the United States and other English-speaking territories, bringing with it much-needed core support for Neo Nectar, Aqua Force, Narukami and Great Nature. Aside from these clans, Soaring Ascent also has supplementary cards for Gear Chronicle and Royal Paladin, but not everything in G-2 is made of gold nor in high demand. The set's overall focus is on Soul Saver-type stride skills, field power bonuses and multiple attack strategies for the different clans included that together create offensives that are more than the sum of their parts. The decks introduced by Soaring Ascent generally have a great number of moving parts, and part of the challenge of building out of this set is to simplify those strategies down to the smallest number of functional pieces that will dismantle an opponent with as few combos as possible. None of the decks introduced by the set have been seen to stand on their own in Japanese waters, but are instead reliant on cards from existing trial decks, promo releases and past booster sets. Below are the twenty-six cards you should watch out for when Soaring Ascent goes out tomorrow.

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Heat Wind Jewel Knight, Cymbeline
Commons are rarely ever thought of as the makers and breakers of professional play, but in this case the sum of one's rearguard support is greater than their individual boss cards. Cymbeline's on-call skill is to rest himself if there are three or more other Jewel Knight rearguards in play (four total counting Cymbeline) to give another Jewel Knight +10000 power, but he does not require a Jewel Knight vanguard to use and so has become a staple in Royal Paladin decks. How this is applied is using the grade 2 promotional card Swordmy, whose on-call especial counterblast superior calls any grade 1 Jewel Knight. By using Swordmy to fetch Cymbeline, you can then use Cymbeline to power up the Jewel Knights' 12000-power attacker Tracie (who again, only requires three or more other Jewel Knight rearguards) allowing her to break the 21000 power line unboosted and reach a greater total power than if you had just boosted her normally with Cymbeline. The card is also effective when superior called by Ashlei “Яeverse,” since you can lock Ashlei's booster to superior call Cymbeline and use Cymbeline's skill to make “Яeverse” reach 21000 power. Cymbeline is one of the best cards in the set for how he synergizes with multiple cards and is generally accessible at any point in the game.

Divine Knight of Flashing Flame, Samuel
A unique means of rapidly pushing the game to a later stage well before the opponent is capable of handling it, Samuel's on-attack counterblast 2 deals the opponent an extra damage if you have five or more rearguards and the opponent's existing damage is four or less. The value of Samuel is that even if the opponent starts your turn at two damage, if they don't guard Samuel's high-power center lane they're looking going to at least four that turn while you still have two standing rearguards able to attack. Putting them to four then puts them in a bad position against Thing Saver Dragon, changing the tempo of the game immensely. The same holds true long-term for Altomile because of his generation break 2, but if you are using Samuel it means presumably giving up on Gablade for the rest of that game. Hence from Royal Paladin perspective, where Gablade is an early game setup card Samuel fulfills the same function as Silent Tom does in Oracle Think Tank, pushing the opponent straight from the mid to late game.

Conquering Supreme Dragon, Conquest Dragon
Narukami has been thought to have received the short end of the stick compared to the other clans in Soaring Ascent, but their endgame stride has truly set the bar for what the other finishers should be able to manage. By turning a copy of himself face-up in the generation zone, if there are two or more face-up cards in that zone, Conquest retires an opposing frontrow rearguard of your choice and then gives your own front row +5000 power for each of your opponent's unoccupied front rearguard circles. When combined with the on-stride counterblast 1 of Dragonic Vanquisher, you can use Conquest to retire two units and bring up of your own columns up by a net +10000 power, granting a power boost comparable to Platina Ezel. While it's true that there are other power-based strides with very similar skills in the same set, and some of these like Jingle Flower Dragon have a higher potential threshold they can reach, Conquest requires the least amount of setup to strengthen the field.

The amount of moving parts in Aqua Force and Neo Nectar is enormous compared to Narukami, which is the metaphorical revolver of the set. It is easier to make 26000 power rearguard columns with Conquest than it is to make 21000 power columns with Lambros. The key to Conquest is timing, as his skill activates in the main phase and so if you don't have Vanquisher's counterblast at your disposal you can instead use a unit like Dragonic Deathscythe or Chou-ou first, then activate Conquest to destroy the remaining frontrow unit and attach the power boost. Since the power boost is not continuous though, you do need to field all of your frontrow units for the turn before using Conquest.

One last unit that Conquest bears heavy synergy with is Sweep Command Dragon from VG-BT11: Seal Dragons Unleashed. The reason for this is Sweep's on-ride skill, putting an Eradicator rearguard into the soul to retire an opponent's frontrow unit. Sweep Command's retire skill can be used on-ride, followed by an immediate stride into Conquest who retires the other frontrow unit. The other reason to employ this strategy is Sweep's dedicated first vanguard First Thunder Dracokid, who allows Sweep to be superior rode from the top ten cards of the deck when an opponent's rearguard is put into the drop zone. By attacking with Conquest first, then the grade 2 Voltage Horn Dragon and using Voltage's skill to retire a unit, First Thunder's skill can be activated and Command superior ridden during the battle phase to restand the center lane.

Marine General of Heavenly Silk, Lambros
As Aqua Force's new finishing stride, Lambros is dependent on specific rearguard support to function but rewards the setup with aggressive rearguard attacks that become more lethal the further the game progresses. By turning a copy of himself face-up in the generation zone when he attacks the vanguard, if it's the fourth or greater battle of that turn, you can stand two of your rearguards. If there are two or more face-up cards in the generation zone, those units get +10000 power each. Lambros meeting his criteria at all means at least six attacks will have happened by the end of that turn, ideally with Magnum Assault from G-TD04, and the number of attacks can go up to seven with Officer Cadet Andrey from the same trial deck. The number of individual attacks ensures the opponent will have to drop more shield just to block the rearguards than they would for Conquest.

Be wary of one fact with Lambros; the wording on the on-stride grade 3 One Who Surpasses the Storm Thavas ensures that an opponent's rearguard is only retired on the fourth battle of the turn exactly. The additional attacks from Lambros's persona skill that take place in the fifth battle or later will not cause an opponent's rearguard to be retired. Also, as mentioned under Conquest Dragon, Lambros requires much more setup to get his effects off; to reach the fourth battle condition you need both a full field and any of Tidal Assault, Magnum Assault, Andrei, Strikehead Dragon or position swapping units. Conquest's full effect only demands one other retire effect to be in play, so that something as simple as Dragonic Vanquisher or Deathscythe can bring Conquest completely online. Lambros is higher maintenance for greater output, but has lower minimum functionality than Conquest Dragon.

Immortality Professor, Phoeniciax
While Managarmr is Great Nature's designated finishing move, the reason Tester Fox has been so popular in Japan is primarily owed to Phoeniciax, and the most important turns of Great Nature games are spent on the Immortal Professor. When Phoeniciax attacks a vanguard, you can give up to two of your rearguards +4000 power, then retiring the powered up units at the end of the turn. The way this works with Fox is that thanks to the modifications to the end phase made in early April, stride now resolves by leaving the field prior to the beginning of the end phase; this means that by the time any cards with the timing of "at the beginning of" or "during the" end phase of the turn, Tester Fox's legion is already restored and his in-legion skill will thus resolve.

By having a copy of Researcher Fox in the rearguard and targeting him for Phoeniciax's skill, when it's retired in the end phase you can use Researcher's counterblast 1 to search your deck for a copy of either Tester or Researcher, then resolve Tester's skill to countercharge the damage Researcher counterblasted, draw a card and return the retired Researcher Fox to the deck to be searched out next turn. This creates a loop across multiple turns where Phoeniciax keeps on feeding the Fox legion engine, maintaining a high handsize and strong rearguard columns that push the opponent to the high damage line where Managarmr is threatening. You could already do the initial setup with Tester, but Phoeniciax brings multiple power boosts to the table and triple drive, and also sets up Managarmr's condition of having two or more face-up units in the generation zone. Guru Tiger from the same set is inferior to Tester for these purposes because he has no end phase skills, and thus no synergy with stride.

Set Square Penguin & Crayon Tiger
Blessings come in packages. Square Penguin and Crayon Tiger are a pair of units that emphasize the strengths of stacking multiple retire-and-draw skills on a single unit in Great Nature. Both cards are generation break 1; when Penguin is called to the rearguard circle he gives one rearguard of your choice the ability to countercharge a damage and draw a card when retired. The draw portion of the skill is what too many cardfighters forget about Penguin.

Meanwhile Crayon Tiger's counterblast 1 activates when he attacks, standing a rearguard if he's boosted, giving it +4000 power and an on-retire draw. By targeting the same unit for these skills as is targeted for Phoeniciax, you can eliminate the counterblast cost on Crayon Tiger and gain a net +1 off of retiring that unit, since the first card drawn replaces the lost unit and the second card drawn represents an increase in cards controlled when compared to how many you held prior to that unit being retired. If used with the Tester Fox legion combo described above on Researcher Fox, it forms a net +3 overall at the expense of having an awkward field formation. Better yet, since using Tester and Researcher Fox with Phoeniciax loops into itself from turn to turn, it's very easy to pace one's use of these draw skills so that Set Square goes off one turn and Crayon on the next, or vice-versa.

Sacred Tree Dragon, Jingle Flower Dragon
Jingle Flower is Neo Nectar's version of Conquest Dragon above. Like Conquest he activates by turning a copy of himself face-up in the generation zone and then having two or more face-up cards in that zone, but Jingle Flower accomplishes his power boost by giving one of the rearguards "CONT (Vanguard/Rearguard circle): During your turn, all of your units get Power +2000 for each unit you have with the same name as this unit." This skill essentially lets you pick the rearguard that you can most easily create copies of that turn to maximize the power bonus. If you read  it carefully, how the skill worded is that even if you only have one of that unit in play, the entire field will still get +4000 power. ("this unit" has the same name as itself, and the skill does not specify "each other unit.") And thanks to the skill of Maiden of Flower Screen, it's possible to give just the name of a unit on the field to Flower Screen to effectively get five copies of it in play.

With five copies in play, Jingle Flower's skill simply becomes a +10000 power to every unit on the field; with four, it's +16000 power. If you combo Flower Screen with the promo card Sour Slicer (distributed in promo packs at card shops from April to June) Jingle Flower causes the field to attack for its maximum of 40000, 56000 and 42000 power. The trick with Jingle Flower is that to maximize its potential requires having multiple copies of cards in play, yet Jingle Flower is also contending with Dragonic Overlord “The X” and other retire-heavy decks in the same format. To get the same effectiveness as Conquest Dragon, you need to have two copies of a unit in play; while Conquest only needs any one supporting retire skill and can give +10000 power to a completely diverse uniquely-named field. Conversely, Jingle Flower does give you more for putting in more work, while having a greater minimum output than Lambros above and an inferior minimum to Conquest.

Dragonic Vanquisher
Narukami made out of G-BT02 with three exceptional tools; Conquest, Vanquisher and Chatura. Vanquisher is the clan's stride support grade 3. When stridden over, for counterblast 1 Vanquisher can retire an opponent's frontrow rearguard and then bind it, preventing that unit from being used for legion, cycling skills or revival and also setting off both the supporting rearguards that gain power when an opponent's rearguard is put into the drop zone and the same types of units that trigger when one is put into the bind zone. Vanquisher's strength is in the sheer number of decks he counters, both existing and preemptive. Neo Nectar from the same set has a series of cards specifically designed to return normal units to the deck so that they can be searched out even if they're retired, and Vanquisher prevents that from happening. The format is currently dominated by the likes of Thing Saver, “The X” and Phantom Blaster “Abyss,” but Vanquisher binding their rearguards prevents those units from being legioned in.

Potentially, a good Narukami fighter can create a situation in which all of an opponent's legion mates are on their vanguard circle and in the bind zone, preventing them from being used for another legion at all. Vanquisher's weaknesses are twofold; first there is a lack of supporting rearguards that also bind retired cards, and second is his generation break. Dragonic Vanquisher's generation break is a blanket transplant of Gauntlet Buster Dragon's limit break, getting +3000 power and +1 critical whenever a unit is put into the drop zone by one of your card effects. The catch to this is the timing. Gauntlet Buster was successful in a format where the opponent was likely to be at 3 damage by the time Gauntlet was at 4, increasing the threat of a multiple critical vanguard immensely. But because you need to stride twice for Vanquisher to go off, and strides have innately high-power center lanes that are designed to hit, by the time Vanquisher is online the opponent is likely at 4 damage and also has had time to filter through their deck for perfect defense cards. Thus Vanquisher depends on Blizza (described below) to function well.

Demonic Dragon Berserker, Chatura
Chatura is the last piece of the truly great Narukami support in the set. His strength lies in not being a generation break, as Chatura is always active during his owner's turn, becoming an 11000 power base and getting a skill that allows him to counterblast 1 and draw a card when his attack hit a vanguard, then bind a card in the opponent's drop zone. The trade-off to this is that Chatura cannot attack a rearguard, but with a pressure skill built in that will incentivize guarding regardless there's no real need to attack a rearguard in the first place. Chatura's strength is both in blocking legion and cycling skills as described under Vanquisher, and providing cheap card advantage. Drawing off of Chatura helps keep your defenses high and get the pieces of your strategy together, and being active without striding helps him go off very early in the game.

Omniscience Dragon, Managarmr 
It would be unfair to say that Managarmr is to Great Nature as Jingle Flower is to Neo Nectar. Great Nature already has the high power rearguard lanes built into itself. What he does is slightly more complicated, as Managarmr has the functional abilities of a Conquest Dragon in that he forces the opponent to expend similar amounts of guard instead of being able to fall back on Sentinel units. Once per turn, by paying counterblast 1 and turning a copy of Managarmr face-up, if there are two or more face-up G units in the generation zone you can give two of your rearguards +4000 power and an autoskill that blocks grade 1 and greater guardians from being called to the hand if those units' power exceeds 20000 at the moment of their attack. The primary issue with Managarmr is that generally opponents conserve grade 0 shield for rearguard attacks, and only use perfect defense cards against the vanguard.

Taking away the option to do otherwise can be significant with how high Great Nature's lanes get though, as now a 33000-power rearguard lane requires 25000 shield to block and the last 5000 shield has to come specifically from a draw trigger. This property lets you potentially shave off an extra 5000 shield than normal if the opponent only has 10000-shield grade 0s in hand, so that a 33000-power lane takes the same amount of shield as a 38000-power lane, weakening the opponent considerably in the following turn. Two Managarmr strides should finish the opponent off, but it's unreasonable to try and concentrate your final gambit into the first Managarmr. Bear in mind that Managarmr's numbers are not especially large compared to Jingle Flower or even potentially Conquest. What wins the game ultimately is that the moderate to high power boosts are happening alongside a system of rearguard support that excels at turtle defense via continual drawing and refunding of resources.

Famous Professor, Big Belly
Great Nature's on-stride grade 3 has not seen much play in his country of origin compared to Tester Fox and Chatnoir, who have risen as the marquee cards of Great Nature. Despite that, the fundamental idea behind Big Belly isn't a bad strategy. His counterblast 1 gives two rearguards +4000 power and a skill that when an attack by a unit in the same column as them (whether themselves or the unit they're boosting) hits the vanguard and is 20000 or greater, the Great Nature fighter can draw a card. This synergizes with Great Nature's high power rearguard lanes, giving the opponent an incentive to drop unnecessary guard power against them to prevent their draw skills from going off, and Big Belly doesn't actually retire the units he powers up either.

How does the professor hold up in comparison to his competition? The point of conflict with him is his timing and cost. Big Belly's on-stride skill only triggers at the moment that a G unit is placed on the vanguard circle, and it's difficult to keep those rearguards in play in a deck that both thrives on retiring them and is also vulnerable to field control tactics. If you want to keep your field full, you have to actively avoid stacking power, retire, draw and unflipping skills on your rearguards with Set Square, Crayon Tiger and Coiling Duckbill. Continual use of Big Belly across multiple turns requires filling and maintaining full fields, and because there's no countercharging built into him, unlike with Tester Fox he's not maintainable in the long term. His generation break 2--on-attack +4000 power to a rearguard, retire it in the end phase, and draw one--is certainly better than Tester Fox's on-attack, but no one is playing Tester Fox for his attack skill. It's the end phase interactions that make the Tester Fox deck such an effective loop, like a snake devouring its own tail.

Battle Siren, Stacia
Stacia specializes in creating fourth attack conditions without actually dedicating to making attacks against the vanguard that can't hit. Consequently, she's been a popular choice for Aqua Force cardfighters in Japanese waters, and should always be considered when building for stride Aqua Force, though she may not make the cut in every deck. Her generation break gives her the continuous ability to attack from the backrow, and +3000 power when she does so; key to this is that she doesn't have to attack the vanguard, and can instead attack a base 9000 rearguard. By placing a 12000-power attacker in front of her, you can make one attack against a rearguard with Stacia and another against the vanguard with the 12000-power attacker in front of her, which with your other rearguard lane and then the vanguard will meet fourth battle conditions easily.

Moreover, if Stacia is used as Lambros' booster you can exploit the principle that boost is applied continuously regardless of if battle position is changed. By choosing Stacia as a target for Lambros' on-attack skill, she will stand and gain +10000 power, which will also be applied to Lambros due to him receiving her continuous boost. After Lambros' attack is completed, Stacia will still be standing and can declare an attack from the backrow for 19000 power. If the skill of the trial deck first vanguard Andrei is applied to Stacia she'll also have +2000 more power and will stand again after attacking, making for two 21000-power attacks from Stacia. This is one of the reasons that she's so often been run at 2~4 copies in Aqua Force decks, and her flexibility in both setting up fourth battle conditions or becoming a part of the offense is what makes her valuable.

Blue Storm Marine Generals, Michael & Milos (Guest starring Marine General of the Wave-slicing Sword, Max)
Milos is a familiar number to Aqua Force veterans; he's a variant of Tidal Assault that only triggers while the vanguard is in legion, standing after attacking a vanguard and losing 5000 power until the end of the turn. But Milos also comes attached to Resist, a skill that prevents him from being targeted by the opponent's skills. That makes him immune to specifically targeted locks, retire, and bottom-of-deck skills. (Note that Milos can still be hit by the Witch series cards' grade 0 swap skills because they target the circle he is on and not Milos himself. There are also a small pool of retire and lock skills in Kagerou and Link Joker that target a column rather than the units within it.)

Given that he can only activate while the vanguard is in legion though, you may only want to run two or so copies of Milos since most of your gameplay will take place on Tidal Bore Dragon and Lambros. Michael is the real reason to run Aqua Force's new legion pair, as he helps push the opponent to five damage on your intermediary turns between Tidal Bore and Lambros. Michael's a boss card incarnation of the Storm Rider series; after he makes a legion attack, Michael can persona blast either Milos or himself to exchange the positions of all of your rearguards and stand two of them.

Milos primarily synergizes with Marine General of the Wave-slicing Sword Max; the short version of Max's skill is that when he attacks during the third or greater battle of the turn, his generation break lets you counterblast 1 to exchange the positions of two units without standing them. The idea is that you use Magnum Assault to create the first two attacks of the turn, then have a rearguard Max attack unboosted, and use Max's counterblast to swap him with a unit behind him, have that unit attack, and then use Michael's persona blast to swap the positions of Michael and the unit in his own column once again, standing them both. The triggers from Michael's checks are split between Max and the unit in his column, then Max attacks, switches positions with that unit once again, and that unit attacks.

Max also gives the unit he selects +2000 power until the end of the turn, so two uses of Max's still will stack a net +4000 power on that unit, and if you use a 12000-power Blue Storm subclan attacker it will then create a 16000 power lane. While it may seem we're talking more about Max than Michael here, this type of strong seven step combo attack existing outside of stride turns is really only possible with Michael's legion skill.

Nixie Number Dragon & Steam Knight, Xang
Nixie Number is the legion that Gear Chronicle needed most, and arguably the best single rare in the set. While in legion, if an opponent's rearguard is placed on the bottom of their deck by one of your card effects, Nixie Number gets an autoskill that prevents the opponent from calling grade 1 and greater cards from their hand to the guardian circle when he attacks. Since Nixie Number already attacks for 23000 power while in legion, this skill is a death sentence if they've already been put to four by your strides, and the only issue is getting a card on the bottom of the deck without striding. His mate Xang can put a grade 2 or lesser rearguard on the bottom of their deck if his attack hits while Number is in legion, but the opponent will see this coming and on-hits are dubious ways of getting these types of skills active. A better and more controlled solution would be to use Steam Fighter Amber from Awakening of the Interdimensional Dragon, or even Relic Master Dragon from Generation Stride.

Interdimensional Dragon, Faterider Dragon
One of the more overlooked Gear Chronicle strides, Faterider is Gear Chronicle's Conquest Dragon variant. Once per turn, Faterider's skill puts one of your rearguards on the bottom of your deck, then searches for a unit one grade higher than it to superior call; afterwards it gives one unit for each face-up card in your generation zone +3000 power. When used as a followup to Ragnaclock Dragon you should have at least three face-up cards in that zone, granting one row +6000 power and another +3000 power. The good news with Faterider is that he becomes progressively more powerful the later in the game he's used, and with Ragnaclock drawing out the opponent's perfect defense cards on prior turns you can set Faterider to go off on your sixth or seventh turn of the game, when there should be around five face-up G units to grant +3000 power to every unit you have in play.

This is mainly useful with the grade 2 Steam Maiden Ishin from the same set, because Ishin can gain a grade 0 blocking skill when an opponent's rearguard is put into the deck (presumably by Chronojet Dragon's on-stride skill.) Having a ~22000 power grade 0 blocking rearguard is a naturally useful way of going in to finish off the opponent, since if they don't have a perfect defense card in hand Ishin will require three cards to block. But from an opposing perspective, Faterider is so late game that sometimes it will never be seen, and Gear Chronicle has difficulty maintaining the long-term card advantage necessary to have a full field that can benefit from Faterider's complete effects. Compared to Conquest and Jingle Flower above, both of which are going off on the fourth to fifth turns with more complex but less situational setup, Faterider lacks the strong synergy with his clan that contemporary units have.

Strikehead Dragon
Most clans have or will receive an on-ride counterblast 1 soulblast 1 grade 3 by the end of the format, but out of those introduced by G-BT02 Strikehead is easily one of the best. By paying the on-ride cost, you can give one of your rearguards a skill that allows it to stand after attacking the vanguard if it's the first battle of the turn. Although this is mutually exclusive with Magnum Assault, you can always target a 12000-power generation break attacker, or if the opponent's still at grade 2 a 9000-power unit that otherwise wouldn't be contributing a skill to that turn. The advantage to Strikehead is that he gives you a grade 3 that you genuinely want to ride when going first, while Thavas and Milos would both be dead weight if you were the first fighter to reach grade 3.

Moreover, Strikehead's generation break 1 gives any unit that makes a third or greater attack against a vanguard +3000 power during that battle, which easily makes him swing for 21000 power in the midgame, and it can pump up a rearguard that wouldn't otherwise be able to hit. Strikehead isn't revolutionary like Lambros, but his combination of flexible timing, the ability to simply ride for his skill and immediately stride, and serial attack synergy makes him an ideal grade 3 choice to cover all of your bases.

Saberflow Sailor
Saberflow is Aqua Force's Starlight Hedgehog. At the end of the battle that she attacked a vanguard, if it was the fourth or greater battle of the turn, Saberflow can retire herself to draw two cards. This is a net +1 that helps compensate for her low 8000 base power, and since she should be the last unit to attack in the turn Sailor will have received the triggers of that turn's drive checks to help her connect. She assists with hand filtering and getting together the necessary components of Aqua Force's complex strategies, which is invaluable in a deck where not having setup means sitting on vanilla cards for the whole game. The only obstacle to her is that Saberflow is really a midgame rather than an early game card, because she's a generation break 1 and can't go off before you've begun striding.

Blue Storm Marine General, Despina
Like with Cymbeline above, Despina is a common that can be vital to determining games. Her skill only activates when boosting a Maelstrom vanguard, and the primary grade 3 fighters want to pair her with is Glory Maelstrom from VGE-BT09: Clash of the Knights and Dragons. If it's the fourth or greater battle of the turn, the opponent cannot call grade 0 cards from their hand to the guardian circle. Provided that the opponent survives, during the end phase of the turn Despina then shuffles into the deck. Typically Glory will be paired with Thavas or Michael rather than the unit he's a crossride of, so with Despina's boost your vanguard will only reach a maximum 20000 power.

The only way to remedy this is with a power-pumping skill like that of Battle Siren Mallika. Glory's ultimate break blocks grade 1 and greater guardians, while Despina blocks grade 0 guardians, meaning that the only way to guard them is to double intercept for one-to-pass. If Mallika's involved that usually isn't an option barring especial intercept skills. From the perspective of playing against Despina, there are several options. One is to send the Glory cardfighter straight from four to five damage, never giving them the five damage necessary for Glory Maelstrom's ultimate break. The clan's limit break enabler, Mako Shark Soldier of the Blue Storm Fleet, can only activate limit break 4 skills and not limit break 5s, and there isn't much room in Aqua Force decks for damage-inducing units, so leaving the opponent at 4 and trying to hit them with extra critical from there is a viable tactic. Another is to stay at three damage for as long as possible to simply shrug off the Glory Maelstrom attack. However, Aqua Force excels at creating multiple attacks per turn, and this last point can be very difficult to make viable.

Snow Element, Blizza
Cray Elemental strides have been consistently useful additions to most decks, and Blizza is no exception. A promotional version of the card was distributed at the Spring Festival earlier this year, and Blizza's also being printed as a Rare in the set itself. Their skill is to counterblast 1 and turn any unit in the generation zone face-up when attacking, then gaining +5000 power for each face-up card in the generation zone. The chief reason this skill is so valuable is not for its endgame power boost, but because Blizza can put any generation break 2 online with the first stride of the game.

Blizza is a card that will only get better over time, as the English-language debut of Blaster Dark “Diablo” in late June will bring with it the first stride support grade 3 whose skills rely exclusively on being at generation break 2. The plethora of face-up generation support in G-BT03: Sovereign Star Dragon, including Aurageyser and Spear Cross Dragon, all but guarantees Blizza long-term place in professional play. Right now Dragonic Vanquisher benefits the most from Blizza, as his early critical generation break is especially beneficial to have going off while the opponent is at 2~3 damage and otherwise is only going online when it no longer matters.

Knights of Transience, Maredream & Marehope
The Knights of Transience are a pair of generation break 1 rearguards that are likely to surprise you. Marehope is a grade 1 that can be returned to the deck to search for one Maredream; Maredream is his grade 2 partner that at the end phase of the turn pays counterblast 1 soulblast 1 and returns to the deck to bring out two copies of Marehope.

On your next turn you can then return both Marehopes to the deck to bring out two Maredreams, who in the end phase will bring out four Marehopes, who then become Maredreams in the next turn--functionally keeping field presence high across several turns with multiple copies of units for Jingle Flower abuse.

Flower Princess of Spring's Beginning, Primavera
Primavera is one of the most difficult cards to set up in all of Neo Nectar. She requires an up-front counterblast three, a cost that can be used to justify virtually any skill these days. Moreover, she requires five normal (nontrigger) units to be returned to the deck for her cost, and a discard in that order--you cannot discard before returning five normal units to the deck. Primavera's on-attack skill effectively calls four units out of the deck standing, by calling two copies each of two units you already have in play. Five attacks and the ability to return perfect defense cards to the deck while also setting up Jingle Flower for the next turn by cloning the field is certainly worth the cost, but being worthwhile doesn't make it any easier to pay. Primavera is one of those units that becomes better the longer the game goes on, as multiple attacks are more difficult to guard than high power lanes at later junctures in the fight, but because it's practically impossible for her to go off on the third or even fourth turns the standard is to have Primavera at one to two copies in the generation zone.

The remaining space is taken up by Jingle Flower and Arborea. Even at one to two, Primavera is exceedingly difficult for stride Neo Nectar to afford, and the deck best suited to exploiting her is the Musketeer subclan. The Musketeers have access to multiple forms of countercharge 2 through Gardenia Musketeer Alain and Anemone Musketeer Susanna, while Ahsha only has several types of on-hit countercharge to make use of and the soul that would go to Susanna instead belongs to the Knights of Transience. With only a few limited ways to use her, stride Neo Nectar is better off looking to Multivitamin Dragon from Fighter's Collection 2015 rather than Primavera as a go-to stride. Good Primavera play is awesome to behold, but the deck is so far stacked against her that she's little more than a curiosity in professional play.

G-BT02: Soaring Ascent of Gale & Blossom is a mixed set. Aqua Force and Great Nature will clearly benefit the most from its additions, while Narukami and Neo Nectar are left languishing with not nearly the same level of high quality support cards. Soaring Ascent challenges cardfighters to master complex and devastating card combinations, but not everything meets the expectations set by their pricetags and the vast majority of decks that borrow from this set are dependent on much older cards to compete. What is Lambros without Tidal Assault, or Phoeniciax without Tester Fox? Conquest-Vanquisher has some properties unique to itself, but why not run Conquest-Sweep Command instead? The game is certainly better off for having Soaring Ascent added to it, but whether it will truly diversify professional play in the foreseeable future is questionable. The vast majority of cards in the set are dependent on extremely specific criteria when compared to the support in the top decks of the format like Thing Saver Dragon or “The X,” and the clan to get the best deal out of the set is ostensibly Royal Paladin. Ultimately diversity in the format is going to rely on cardfighters making the logical leap that the setup-intensive decks of Soaring Ascent are worth their payout over the increased risk in moving away from stable decks like Thing Saver. G-BT02 makes a strong case for Aqua Force and Great Nature, and gives generally superb strides to each clan in the set, but falls short of the mark in providing Neo Nectar and Narukami with cohesive vanguard and rearguard options that aren't dependent on existing decks to compete.