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.