Thursday, February 28, 2013

Study Guide: Neo Nectar

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.

Neo Nectar has gained a reputation as the go-to budget clan of Cardfight's pro scene, being extremely competitive but with their rarities stopping at RR. Based out of the nation of Zoo, the clan's bioroids are responsible for most of Cray's food production, and is overseen by Zoo's nature deities. Their play style reflects this agrarian focus. Neo Nectar's primary characteristic is "seeding" units across the field by "planting" another in the deck or drop zone; you give up one card to turn it into two.

Effectively the secret clan of BT05: Awakening of Twin Blades, they were an unexpected addition that was kept quiet until very near to release. One of the unfortunate consequences of this is that Neo Nectar cannot modify its triggers out of the box, as the clan's basic four heal, four draw, four critical, four stand triggers are all just barely squeezed into the set. This can be somewhat restraining, but as with the BT04-era Shadow Paladins, when deckbuilding for Neo Nectar one should build to capitalize on this variety as a strength rather than a weakness.

The clan's first vanguard from BT05 is also one of their most successful, Shield Seed Squire. Like Wingal Brave this is a base 5000 FVG that outrides from the soul when ridden over with a unit of the same clan, but Shield Seed is based on his potential as an attacker rather than a booster. When Shield Seed's attack hits the vanguard, you can plant him on top of your deck to search your deck for the grade 1 Blade Seed Squire, and then call that unit at rest. While being at rest means that you won't be able to utilize your new Blade Seed right away, this is an important skill because it preserves the +1 that you got from Shield Seed's outride, and it gives it to you in the more preservable form of Blade Seed and his higher 7000 base, which is immune to Gattling Claw or Saishin tactics. Shield Seed's skill encourages early game attacks to get a damage lead, and it is also one way to capitalize on Watering Elf, the deck's stand trigger; if your superior call of Blade Seed is to the front row, then you can apply the stand that you checked to him to get three attacks out of the first turn, putting pressure on the opponent. While this does leave Blade Seed exposed for the opponent's attack, this also lets you use him a distraction since their focus will be momentarily shifted to eliminating a rearguard when you already have a damage lead, mitigating their chance to even that damage out. Furthermore, since Shield Seed is shuffled back into the deck in this way, you've effectively replaced the 5000 shield in the deck that a copy of Blade Seed provides with the 10000 of Shield Seed, so if you draw Shield Seed you'll then have 5000 more shield than the opponent can usually expect in a given game. The early game aggression, stable field and surprise defense that Shield Seed affords makes him one of the best first vanguards of all time.

Blade Seed Squire has his own skill. When his attack hits the vanguard, you can plant Blade Seed into the deck just as you did for Shield Seed, to superior call the grade 2 Knight of Verdure, Gene at rest. This isn't as amazing as Shield Seed's skill, especially since you're likely to have a grade 2 vanguard when you try to attack with Blade Seed, but if you did get that stand trigger from before you'll have a base 9000 grade 2 with intercept out on the field while still at grade 1. As with the Shield to Blade transition, Verdure comes with 2000 power more than the unit you changed him out for, and he provides a defensive boost. More importantly, Verdure has a take of his own on this type of gardening skill, planting himself when his attack hits the vanguard to superior call the grade 3 Knight of Harvest Gene at rest.

Offensive and defensively, Harvest is not the improvement that the previously calls were, with no shield and just 10000 power, but his on-hit is how you finally sow what you began at the start of the game with Shield Seed. When Harvest's attack hits, he can return to the deck to superior call two copies of Verdure at rest. This means that you've gained 5000 shield over just having the first Verdure on the field, a new attacker, and a +1 for a total +2, all starting with humble little Shield Seed. The problem with these skills is that it's cumbersome to make Blade Seed's go off once you hit grade 2 or later, and each unit takes up a fair amount of deckspace even running them at the minimum 1-2-1 (reading from grades 1 up to 3.) They also restrict what you can call since, while the skills do not explicitly demand open rearguard circles to call to, doing so is the only real way to maintain your increases in advantage. The minimum described previously also runs the risk of the damage check, as damage checking any of these units endangers the strategy, but running more than that means potentially missing out on copies of Neo Nectar's other important units. One effective way to handle this is to only run Shield Seed and Blade Seed Squires without either of the two Genes, guaranteeing a consistent +1 per game and 7000 power booster to better set up your field.

In terms of grade 1s other than Blade Seed, Caramel Popcorn and Lily Knight of the Valley both stand out. Popcorn is a base 7000 unit that can counterblast 1 in the main phase to gain +1000 power, a Neo Nectar Oasis Girl. Popcorn's skill is essential because it can form 18000 power rearguard lines easily for wailing on crossrides, and repeating her skill can make a 20-21000 power vanguard line, which can become a key point of aggression toward the end of a game. Even though Neo Nectar lacks the ability to unflip damage easily, the deck is very low on counterblast, with only four or so units in the basic deck having access to the mechanic. That leaves a lot of room for Popcorn.

Lily Knight meanwhile is a base 6000 unit that gives an additional +4000 power when he boosts an Iris Knight. Unlike other Wingals, Lily Knight's boost target is actually the clan's base 10000 grade 2, which makes for a very versatile setup. As with Blaster Dark and Doranbau, even a single copy of Lily Knight can see occasional use as a temporary remedy against grade 2 gradelock, and in the rearguard additional copies will make for an easy base 20000 setup to wreck havoc on Alfred and company, while also being valuable for facing down crossrides like The End and Blaster Overlord. While base 6000 grade 1s are normally difficult to recommend in crossride dominant formats, for Neo Nectar they are a little more practical because of the supporting grade 3, Frontline Valkyrie Laurel; Laurel is the original Gigantech Charger, a base 10000 grade 3 that gains +2000 power when she attacks a vanguard. This means that with even a base 6000 power booster, you'll have an 18000 power line, as well as a unit that can form 20000 power lines with Corolla Dragon. Base 20000 is very easy for Neo Nectar to come by, and is arguably one of the defining characteristics of their basic deck.

Of their grade 2s, Hey Yo Pineapple and Glass Beads Dragon stand out the most. Hey Yo is a base 8000 unit that gains +3000 power when he attacks if you have four or more Neo Nectar vanguards and rearguards, counting himself. This goes hand in hand with the clan's theme of spreading rearguards out frequently and early, the skill only actually requires two other rearguards to be called, and without actually being a base 11000 unit Hey Yo still forms anticrossride lines easily. Blade Seed is his natural, nearly-free partner, tying back to the Shield Seed strategy. Glass Beads is the basic Maiden of Libra that we've been seeing since BT01, able to counterblast 2 when his attack hits to draw one card for a +1 overall. Glass' impact is dampened somewhat by coming out in the very set in which crossrides are introduced, but there are ways to cope with this; making the most of the enforced stand triggers, Watering Elf can move to the soul to give +3000 power to one Neo Nectar rearguard, in our case Glass to make a base 12000 unit that will easily break 18000 and pay you back the card that you just gave up to empower him. More pointedly, Glass is excellent for pressuring the opponent's rearguards, as there are none that currently breach 11000 base power, so you can build a -1 to the opponent and +1 to yourself with Glass while using the other lines to hit crossride units.

All the units that we've discussed thus far bring us to the clan's primary grade 3, Maiden of Trailing Rose. Rose is a base 11000 unit in any circle, which is key to the BT05-on format. And when her attack hits a vanguard, Rose can counterblast 1 and persona blast a copy of herself to look at up to five cards from the top of the deck and call up to two Neo Nectar among them. That's (-1 +2) for a +1 overall, but this assumes that your rearguard circles are empty. While her full potential will not be realized until BT08, the skill as it is now is good mainly for its sheer utility at any point in the game. If you haven't been able to set up a strong field and the opponent has a damage lead as a result, you can persona blast to fill those empty circles and counterattack without committing anything to the field from your hand, possibly taking the lead in the process. Because the skill doesn't require empty rearguard circles however, it still holds a use beyond the early game if you're willing to take the -1. The most straightforward way to use that is to call an entire new column, but you can also do with just replacing the front row. Stand triggers are favored here, since you could attack with all of your rearguard lines first to make the opponent use up their hand defending their rearguards, then persona blast with Trailing Rose on the third attack to call two new units to the front row. Any stand triggers that you check go to the boosting units then, because the power that was applied to them can then be boosted onto the units superior called through the persona blast. This makes it even more unfortunate that triggers cannot be customized for Neo Nectar on-release, as six to eight stand triggers would actually favor their play style. Of course, you can try to attack with the rearguards unboosted and then bring out the persona blast to make use of the still-standing boosting units, but these initial attacks will be greatly weakened.

One of Trailing Rose's more interesting characteristics is that depending on the opponent, she can draw a heavy defense from the onset of the game rather than behaving as described above. Only needing a single counterblast to work with helps her case immensely, as the opponent is constantly threatened by the possibility of Valkyrie Laurel, Hey Yo Pineapple or Iris Knight coming out from the deck. Defending every turn like this wears the opponent out more quickly, which makes Trailing Rose's persona blast all the more threatening. The result is that the opponent's plays are paralyzed; they can choose not to defend and give you additional attacks to work with, or they can defend and quickly lose their stamina to Neo Nectar's heavy field presence.

Next time that we revisit this clan, I will discuss the additions from BT08: Blue Storm Armada, the upgrades to Trailing Rose and the new Arboros strategy that the set will introduce.

Seven pros use this clan.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

News: TD10 for June 2013 Release

Bushiroad Inc. turned heads at their press conference today, with the announcement that the highly-anticipated Shadow Paladin Trial Deck will be released in Japan this June with a new artwork for Blaster Dark. Series creator Itou Akira tweeted during the broadcast to confirm that he had created the new artwork personally, as he had previously done for Blaster Blade Liberator and the original Blaster Dark.

The skills of the unit and what its final power is have not been revealed, but it is being speculated that the new Shadow Paladins will follow the current trends established by TD08 and TD09, introducing a subgroup. This is one transition that most ShadowPala cardfighters would consider difficult to screw up; even something as small as a Shadow Paladin copy of Blaster Blade Liberator would be an improvement over the original Blaster Dark.

In other news, two additional sleeves have been announced, for Leading Jewel Knight, Salome of the Royal Paladins and Dragonic Descendant of Narukami. Additionally, a special Fighters' Collection 2013 pack was announced for exclusive release during Japan's Fighter's Climax 2013 event, featuring units for Narukami, Gold Paladin and Genesis. Priced at 300 yen, the pack will uniquely sell only new units printed as RRR-rarity in units of 3 per pack.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kagerou Extra Study Material: Dragonic Overlord The End

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
There is in the two-year history of Cardfight's professional scene, no skill more desirable than that of the self-standing vanguard. The pros love these units; Soul Saver Dragon's holy charging roar may be high game, but it lacks of the sheer versatility of extra drive checks. It speaks volumes that the 2012 world championships were a battle of who could stand their vanguard the most consistently and at the right moments. Another draw trigger, another heal, or a lingering critical triggering persisting between attacks means that there's ultimately more to be done with a self-standing vanguard than any other kind of unit. For Kagerou, this self-standing role is filled by Dragonic Overlord The End, a deck which has been embedded in Japan's professional game since January 2012 as a restraining bolt and counter deck to Majesty Lord Blaster.

The End is the most direct expansion on Kagerou's core mechanics, relying on a large base of older cards to form a cohesive strategy. There is no new first vanguard for the deck as there is for the Royal Paladin Blaster deck, but Doom Bringer Gryphon does draw some attention for being a nontrigger grade 0 that is also not a viable FVG. His skill is to counterblast 1 to retire two Kagerou rearguards, then search the deck for a copy of Dragonic Overlord The End and add it to your hand. The problem with this is that Gryphon does not outride from the soul when ridden over, and Doom Bringer also takes up an extra slot in the deck that could be better devoted to a grade 1 or 2 unit. While the best way to use the skill is to retire Gryphon and one other rearguard to get The End into the hand, and Gryphon can be used as a search target for Conroe to guarantee consistency, the skill comes at a -1 overall and trying to use it with Conroe means a CB2 -1 to get a card in hand that is likely going to incur a -1 of its own through riding an extra grade 3. This is clunky and hurts grade 2 security, but is the price paid for a direct search-to-hand skill.

The End himself is arguably one of the best grade 3s ever printed. A first generation crossride, when Dragonic Overlord is in the soul The End gains +2000 power continuously, forming a 13000 base vanguard that makes for an easy 21000 line with Bahr, and more important can shrug off any attack below 18000 with a single 5000 shield. This means that the threat of cards like Silent Tom and Palamedes are effectively negated, with each unit capped at 16000 and 22000 respectively, so that Tom can be stopped with one intercept and Palamedes with a single 10000 shield instead of 15000.

His vanguard-exclusive autoskill is that when The End's attack hits, he can counterblast 2 and discard a copy of himself--persona blast--to stand. Not only is this skill cheaper than the original Overlord's counterblast 3, it doesn't come with the threat of missing out on the initial twin drive, and gives a +1 overall every time that the attack lands, allowing for up to four triggers to be checked. Unlike Stern Blaukluger and Spectral Duke Dragon, the attack does not have to be directed at the vanguard, so if The End's initial attack is directed at a rearguard it gives a -1 to the opponent as well, for a two card lead. The skill is not a finishing move as it is often mistaken for, but instead a cheap early game skill like that of Eclipse, which can be repeated to wreak havoc in the early to midgame by making use of critical triggers, the effects of which persist between persona blasts. This can lead to a vast disparity in damage--as high as 2 to 5 on the turn of the persona blast--which turns the tide strongly in The End's favor. Just as the Flame of Hope Aermo once performed search functions for Goku by discarding checked grade 3s, in this deck he can do the opposite by discard non-grade 3 drive checks to search for extra copies of The End. The timing of The End's persona blast allows for Aermo's skill to be activated first, so if a second copy of The End is drawn at the last moment then it can still be persona blasted.

The card is not perfect, and there are serious weaknesses to the crossride. Unlike Phantom Blaster Overlord, The End does not have a Nightmare Painter to selectively soulcharge Dragonic Overlord with, so it can be slow to set up and it's possible to actually miss the initial crossride, but here at least The End does have an 11000 base to fall back on. The persona blast itself relies on drawing ot checking a specific card--of which there are effectively only three in the deck due to the first being dedicated to the vanguard circle--which will not always take place, and unlike with Stern Blaukluger this skill does not stand the vanguard's booster. This means that if no triggers are checked and The End is stood, even a base 10000 unit can simply drop one trigger on The End to block the next attack for two triggers. Since it is an on-hit skill, a perfect defense card can still stop The End dead in his tracks where Duke Dragon would not be deterred by it. And up until the release of EB01: Comic Style Vol. 1 counterblast is a very strained resource of Kagerou, so The End will have to carefully divide that resource with Berserk Dragon, Conroe and the original Overlord. Unlike Majesty Lord Blaster, The End's skill comes with no guarantees; control of whether or not the attack hits is placed in the opponent's hands, the 13000 base can be permanently missed, no triggers are guaranteed by the tetradrive, and with no boosting unit to assist in the second attack it becomes easy to defend without those triggers. Attempting to save the booster for the second attack will see the opponent drop 10000 shield on the first one and shrug off The End entirely, denying initial damage in the first place. So while the card definitely has more potential, perfect games are much more difficult to play than in Lord Blaster.

Just as the Blaster series comes with Apocalypse Bat, The End comes with his own custom booster, the Flame of Promise Aermo. Aermo's reborn form is more situational than before; he's a base 4000 grade 1 that when he boosts a unit with "Overlord" in its name, can soulblast 1 for +6000 additional power, bringing a total 10000 power boost for a 23000-power vanguard line. This does have cross support into the original Overlord, forming a 21-26000 power line on the turn before and making easy 21000-power rearguards, but because Conroe never returns to the soul the boost is more limited than comparable ones for the Blaster deck. This incarnation of Aermo is limited to two soulblasts barring any additional soulcharging from Flame Edge Dragon, which means that it needs to be rationed carefully. As another Conroe search target, Aermo is definitely a card that can be run as a single copy, and against base 11000 and under vanguards he can go just above the 16000 baseline with The End's autoskill without actually relying on the soulblast initially.

To compensate for the lack of speed and to keep its rearguard lines relevant in the crossride format, The End brings Burning Horn Dragon with him. This is a Kagerou take on Bedivere, gaining +3000 power when he attacks and there is an "Overlord" vanguard, allowing for a base 20000 line with Bahr to pressure units like CoCo or Alfred, or otherwise allowing for base 6000 units to be run in the deck while still forming consistent base 18000 lines. Note that Burning Horn can be a serious liability as well as an asset; he's more difficult to defend than Nehalem and opposing The End decks may well see fit to direct their 19-21000 vanguard line at Burning Horn, forcing you to drop 20000 shield to account for even one trigger, or otherwise risk losing Horn and coping with extra drive checks going at your vanguard after that.

Unlike in the Japanese scene, the English environment has been receiving The End antidecks in its sets since May of 2012, with Garmore, Kaiser Vermillion, Dragonic Lawkeeper, CoCo, Luquier and Dark Lord of Abyss all emerging with skills that strongly orient them against crossride decks. Additionally, knowledge of how to defeat a crossride has become widespread in the English scene, giving both amateurs and established cardfighters an advantage in foresight that Japan never had. Because of these factors, The End may never be as viable for the English professional scene as he was for Japan. The deck is still worth examining for those who are truly dedicated to it, but its value as a go-to competitive deck is not concretely established on our side of the water.

Sixty-one pros use this deck.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Royal Paladin Extra Study Material: Majesty Lord Blaster

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
Clans are not static. They are born, then grow and undergo constant change and revision. The units of those clans are likewise always evolving in their scope and concept. These units are characters, and their role, their loyalties and personal stories are deeply intertwined into the mechanics of Cardfight. Sometimes units will grow up and become different cards, or join another clan and suddenly bring their past support with them. Each card added to the game causes previous cards to start interacting differently. This is the premise of the Royal Paladin Blaster deck introduced by BT05: Awakening of Twin Blades, which unifies not just past units from TD01-BT04, but also two different clans into one composite strategy. The subgroup has also revised the Royal Paladin clan as a whole to the point where a static critical is considered part of their core gameplay, beyond just calling rearguards and drawing power from them.

The first thing that we should tackle is the existing support that the Blaster subgroup is reliant upon. Deck space for the Blasters is enormously constrained by a backlog of old cards that are endemic to the Royal Paladins, so from the previous modules you should pick up on Explosive Flames Palamedes, Toypugal, Margal, Gancelot and the King of Knights being retained in the Royal Paladin Blaster deck. Alfred in particular is a useful single copy because he forms a good alternative vanguard in the crossride format, and because his V/R counterblast 3 allows for many pieces of the Blaster strategy to be searched for. Blaster Blade is also retained and maxed out at four copies, as he forms the cornerstone of almost every play that the Blaster deck will make and is part of multiple activation conditions. Barcgal would be retained in the build were he not restricted, for reasons discussed below.

The first vanguard for the deck is Wingal Brave, the Royal Paladins' first true base 5000 FVG and the reason that Blaster Blade is such a critical card for the subgroup. When he boosts a Blaster unit and the attack hits, Brave can move to the soul to add one unit with Blaster in its card name to your hand from the deck. This makes grade 2 a very important point in a match for the Blaster deck, as a vanguard Blaster Blade with Wingal Brave boosting him will be difficult for opponents to rationalize guarding if their vanguard is not a base 10000 grade 2. And Margal makes even that difficult for the opponent to justify, since she throws their line up to 17000, so in most scenarios the opponent will be left to choose between dropping 15000 shield at grade 2, letting one early trigger ruin their defense and bring your strategy together, or simply not guarding and letting you get that Blaster unit in hand. This is why Gancelot is retained by the new subgroup, as he can search out Blaster Blade on the preceding turn, which makes this grade 2 scenario easy to set up as you can effectively run five copies of Blade.

With regard for what we want to search, Wingal Brave's main feature is not specifying any particular grade requirement in his search criteria, which makes one of the subgroup's Blaster grade 3s the natural target. These units are Blaster Blade Burst, Exculpate the Blaster and the titular Majesty Lord Blaster, which we'll examine in reverse order. Majesty is the deck's winning image, around which the strategy is based. Like most Royal Paladin grade 3s Majesty is a base 10000 unit, but his autoskill allows him to soulcharge a Blaster Blade and Blaster Dark on-attack for +10000 power until the end of the battle; more importantly, he also receives +2000 power and +1 critical continuously for having both of these units in the soul. This makes him easily the greatest shield that the Royal Paladins have, just under the defense of a crossride but above base 11000 units, demanding 12-17000 power lines from the opponent. Since these skills will activate simultaneously at first, Majesty will go for 22000 power and critical 2 unboosted, but with Marron or Toypugal can clear 30-31000, thereafter breaking 20-21 critical 2 each turn. The inclusion of Blaster Dark is surprising to many, but Majesty Lord Blaster is a character based around uniting a warring people and bringing conflicting ideas together for synergy. As his deck is already intended to be a mixed deck, it's natural for it to look at other Shadow Paladin additions that can be made to improve the strategy.

Apocalypse Bat is probably the first other unit that fighters take note of. Like Lionmane Stallion, Apocalypse is a base 4000 power unit that when it boosts a unit with a specific word in its name, can soulblast 1 to give +6000 additional power for a +10000 boost overall. While Lionmane focused on "Alfred" units for a stronger rearguard, Apocalypse is more vanguard oriented, soulblasting when it boosts "Blaster" units. Because it is a Shadow Paladin and has low base power, it's recommended to be run at 1-2 copies maximum, with at least 10 other boosting units in the deck of power 7000 or higher. The recommended way to run Apocalypse with Majesty is to actually not soulblast initially, as with Majesty's continuous and autoskills the first attack will go for 26000 power critical 2, and from that point on will form a 16000 power critical 2 line every turn. It's best to save the soulblast for turns when Majesty's autoskill will not be used, because we want to avoid removing Blade and Dark from the soul, so Lord Blaster with Apocalypse only gets three soulblasts per game, and thus three turns of 22000 power critical 2. The main reason to use Apocalypse instead of Toypugal is that this will pressure other Majesty decks, while Toypugal's 21000 critical 2 line could actually be stopped by a single trigger defense.

In general, the Blaster deck intends to have a unit with "Blaster" in its name as the vanguard from grade 2 onward, be that Blade or Majesty. This is something to be taken advantage of. The Blaster series has a plethora of rearguard support, primarily the grades 1 and 2 Knight of Friendship Kay and Knight of Loyalty Bedivere. Kay is a base 7000 unit that gets +3000 power when he attacks and there is a Blaster vanguard, allowing him to effectively do the job of Gallatin for greater flexibility and to score early damage. Meanwhile, Bedivere is a base 9000 grade 2 that gets +3000 power when he attacks under the same conditions for 12000 total, allowing him to go for 20-21000 with Marron or Toypugal, and to form the easy base 18000 lines that are so critical to the crossride format. Bedivere also has a Shadow Paladin equivalent, Knight of Nullity Masquerade, but there is not a whole lot of room for Bedivere by himself in the first place, so this is an unlikely inclusion.

The reason that the room is so constrained is that Blaster Blade and Blaster Dark are both necessary for Majesty's skills, which means running both at four. And even at four, Dark doesn't have a Gancelot to search him like Blade does; with Wingal Brave's skill dedicated to Majesty, that makes bringing Dark out problematic. The answer to this is Star Call Trumpeter, a base 8000 grade 2 that can counterblast 2 on-call to superior call one grade 2 or lower Blaster unit. While Brave's key feature is ignoring grade, Star Call's is ignoring clan. This allows her to be freely called to the back line to bring out Dark and his slightly higher power to the front, or even to call Dark over Trumpeter and simply retire her with no loss in advantage. Together with the two Blasters, grade 2 space is already tight, although by running less grade 3s it's possible to make room for Bedivere.

Blaster Javelin is another Shadow Paladin unit that can be considered for the deck, but only as a single copy. This is more of a rearguard modification, as it lets Wingal Brave be moved to boost the left or right lanes, and for a turn 1 activation of Brave's skill to get Majesty Lord Blaster into hand immediately. Javelin can then be safely retreated afterward to boost Palamedes, Masquerade or Bedivere, each of which he will form an 18000+ line with for fighting The End and contemporaries.

The basic Majesty build has almost no need for any draw triggers whatsoever, beyond using Margal for tactical moves, and can be run without them because it is exploding with search skills. Critical triggers are overwhelmingly favored by the deck, so much so that you can even run a single Grim Reaper from the Shadow Paladins if three types are not enough to satisfy you.

One variant on Majesty that continually pops up is using Fullbau with Javelin to search for Blaster Dark. The problem with this is that it's attempting to make use of units that the Shadow Paladins wouldn't run if they had a real choice in the matter. Much as the Royal dilemma of being forced to run Drangal with Galahad or resort to Stardust Trumpeter following Bacgal's restriction between BT03 and BT05, Fullbau-Javelin is an enforced restraint on deck space that prevents more useful grade 1s from being utilized. Even in Japan's restricted format where only one copy of Majesty can be in the same deck as Brave, Fullbau-Javelin is not necessary because of Brave's search power and because of the remaining grade 3s that we are about to describe.

As a followup to Majesty, we have Exculpate the Blaster, a promo card that will see English release with boxes of EB01: Comic Style Vol. 1. While Majesty represents Blaster Blade's power after taking up Blaster Dark's sword and bringing together light and darkness to fight the Phantom Blaster Overlord, Exculpate is a temporary transformation that shows his inner light above all else. Exculpate is unique as a base 12000 grade 3, but self-retires when called and at the end of a turn in which you ride him, moves to the soul by riding Blaster Blade from the soul or drop zone. He also requires your vanguard to be a Royal Paladin grade 3 to ride him, and he cannot attack if Blade is not in the soul. Ironically for a transformation that lore-wise took place before Blade became Majesty, what this translates to in gameplay is a one-turn finishing move after riding Lord Blaster. Analyzing the costs that we've paid up to this point, moving Dark and Blade to the soul is a -2 overall, while riding Exculpate over another grade 3 is a -1, and since we'll be left with a weak base 9000 Blaster Blade vanguard after this turn, it's critical that those losses be compensated for. Exculpate's counterblast 3 is his answer to this; an activate skill that causes him to battle all of the opponent's units at once, as an advanced take on Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion's limit break. Assuming the full field that the opponent will generally have at that point, they will be at a minimum suffering a -5 in addition to taking damage. Defending the rearguards would also be pointless--as long as you have two counterblast open, when superior riding Blade from the soul or drop zone in the end phase you can retire any rearguard on the field with Blade's autoskill.

Beyond his activate skill, Exculpate's autoskill is his other key benefit. When he attacks, Exculpate sends all cards in his soul not named "Blaster Blade" to the drop zone to gain +2000 power for each unit. This autoskill does not discriminate between clan. Considering what we did on the turn before with Majesty, Exculpate will be getting +8000/+10000 power to going for at least 20-22000 depending on whether or not your grade 2 ride was Blaster Blade, more if you used Margal. Then you can also use Apocalypse Bat's soulblast on the Blaster Blade that's left in your soul--boost takes place after attack declaration, so Exculpate's current attack must resolve before his inability to attack without a Blade in the soul will kick in--for 30-32000 overall, to the entire field. As with Kaiser Vermillion, each unit must be guarded individually, so you will have at least a one or two card lead at the end of the turn, and the opponent will likely be unable to sustain any kind of counterattack even assuming that they do survive.

Exculpate is believed to be the chief reason that the Barcgal restriction remains universal across formats. The five soul that Barcgal once lent to Soul Saver Dragon would go to Exculpate the Blaster, but with the added bonus of guaranteeing a Blaster Blade in the soul as made necessary by Exculpate's activate conditions. Instead of turning that soul into +5000 power to three rearguards, Exculpate would use it to default to 22000 power prior to boost to the entire field, in every game. This kind of power is already possible as discussed above, but it isn't the same concrete guarantee that Barcgal would give, albeit Exculpate himself would be difficult to search without access to Wingal Brave. Exactly how this works out will likely be seen in the unrestricted Total War tournament set for March 2013, a Japanese tournament that will probably decide Barcgal's ultimate fate in relation to Exculpate.

The main problem with Exculpate is that he can only go off once and exactly once in a fight. This is the only other search target that a standard Blaster deck will dedicate Wingal Brave to, so Majesty Lord Blaster can safely be run at four while Exculpate must be as just one copy.

The last of these "Blaster" vanguards is Blaster Blade Burst, a promo card that has yet to be released in the English format but is nonetheless worth examining for the future. Burst is a base 10000 grade 3 that cannot be boosted, and when he attacks a vanguard he gains +3000 power, both skills which we are familiar with from Alfred and Soul Saver Dragon. This creates a certain expectation for what the remainder of his skills will be, but unfortunately that final skill does not wholly succeed their legacy. When Burst attacks, he can perform an especial counterblast 2--a counterblast where all of the damage being flipped are Royal Paladins--to increase Blade's power by the original power of all of his front row Royal Paladin's for that battle. This is counterblast intensive to a deck that will be using Star Call, Blaster Blade and Exculpate within it, and it also contradicts the synergy that Majesty Lord Blaster promotes between Royal and Shadow Paladin cards, as there must be two Royal Paladins in the damage zone for the skill to work and two in the front row for it to be effective. However, it does have some merits. In general, this will be a total boost of 16-20000 power, for 29-33000 total with his on-attack skill, an increase which is well worth the price but unfortunately lacking in extra critical, and difficult to repeat for a clan devoid of damage unflipping at release.

Like Drangal and Brugal before him, to understand Burst you have to understand the context within which he was printed. Blaster Blade Burst was created as a response to the January 1st 2013 restricted list, which restricted Wingal Brave, Majesty Lord Blaster and the King of Knights Alfred to being run in no combinations exceeding two within the Japanese format. Burst was created to address the loss of each of these units, providing a unit that could be run in two to three copies along with one Wingal Brave and one Majesty to provide an alternative if weaker vanguard line, and to give Alfred decks an alternative vanguard as well that shared the synergy with Wingal Brave. The unit is a crutch to support the weakened Royal Paladins of a different format, not the dominating theme of an entire deck as Majesty Lord Blaster is. In spite of his weaknesses, because his skills are vanguard exclusive, Burst can at least have some synergy with Apocalypse Bat in the rearguard by forming a base 20000 line.

The Blaster subgroup is characterized by its synergy between multiple clans, strong plays at every stage of a match and consistency. It is extremely rare to not bring both Blaster Blade and Blaster Dark into the soul in a game; this means that the deck can guarantee a continuous critical and 12000 base in every match. That critical means that even though the vanguard has somewhat lower base power than contemporary units, it will draw much more attention and shield from the opponent than normal, and that it suddenly only takes three hits to win the round instead of six. This kind of consistent accelerated play is Majesty Lord Blaster's greatest asset, as while The End has the greater potential damage, Lord Blaster's will come out more consistently and is not as reliant on trigger checks.

Fifty-two pros use this deck.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Spotlight: Watanabe Genki/渡辺元気

Fighter's Spotlight is an ongoing project concerned with tracking real-world professional cardfighters across the globe.

Watanabe is at the left; center is Kakuhara Misaki, right is Sawada Yuu.
Watanabe Genki/渡辺元気
Age: Unknown
Titles Won: Osaka Trio Battle Champion (Vanguard Festival 2012)
Current Status: Osaka Trio Battle Champion
Deck Type: Royal Paladin (Majesty Lord Blaster)
Watanabe Genki was one of the first Royal Paladin cardfighters to prove the Majesty Lord Blaster deck to the world, entering into the Osaka Team Festival as his team's captain. The success of Watanabe's team influenced the professional scene heavily in the coming year by codifying Majesty Lord Blaster, Phantom Blaster Overlord and Dragonic Overlord The End as a definitive team formation, although he has not made major appearances since then.

Decks and Play Style
Watanabe's deck worked to synthesize the Royal and Shadow Paladin strategies into a single build, but compared to the fighters that would follow in his footsteps he was relatively conservative in how he brought it together. His grade 1 setup reflects an experienced background with the Royals, instead of taking the somewhat riskier move of including Apocalypse Bat as a vanguard booster. Rather than the radical twelve critical of future Royal Paladin decks, Watanabe stuck to traditional conventions and operated on a six draw, six critical build, using the extra draw power to compensate for the -2 incurred by Majesty Lord Blaster's autoskill.

Also markedly different from his successors, Watanabe eschewed subgroup support almost entirely, omitting both Kay and Bedivere despite the offensive push that they could have brought his deck, reserving the grade 1 space for Toypugal to form a 21000 line with Lord Blaster. This sets a clear divide between Watanabe and more experimental cardfighters who were willing to try riskier modifications within the confines of Majesty's build, like Palamedes or Kay.

Grade 0
x1 Wingal Brave (FVG)
x2 Weapons Dealer, Govanon DT
x4 Yggdrasil Maiden, Elaine HT
x4 Margal DT
x2 Alabaster Owl CT
x4 Bringer of Good Luck, Epona CT
Grade 1
x4 Flash Shield, Iseult
x4 Little Sage, Marron
x4 Lake Maiden, Lien
x3 Toypugal
Grade 2
x4 Blaster Blade
x4 Blaster Dark
x3 Star Call Trumpeter
Grade 3
x2 King of Knights, Alfred
x1 Solitary Knight, Gancelot
x4 Majesty Lord Blaster

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kagerou Extra Study Material: Amber Dragon, Eclipse

Photo by rawritzrichii, seek permission before reposting.
One continual issue with the Kagerou clan is that retiring as a mechanic is expensive. Berserk Dragon costs 2 counterblast for a -1 to the opponent; Kimnara and Gattling Claw both take 1 counterblast for no net difference in advantage. Overlord takes an entire counterblast 3 by himself to probably get the front row cleared out. While the control-based mechanics of the clan are appreciated heavily by the pro scene, the ratio of what you pay compared to what you're receiving isn't always equal and can be difficult to maintain across an extended game. The Amber Dragon deck is the purported solution to this.

Unlike the majority of Kagerou cards, the Amber Dragon line is lifted wholesale from the mechanics of other clans, coming out of EB04: Eclipse of Illusionary Shadows. The skills of the Amber series are a Fullbau-based evolving line, with the grade 0 Amber Dragon Dawn automatically adding the grade 2 Amber Dragon Dusk to your hand when ridden over with the grade 1 Amber Dragon Daylight. Each Amber Dragon gains power in the vanguard circle for having the previous member in its series in the soul; the base 6000 Daylight becomes a base 8000 unit, the base 9000 Dusk becomes a base 10000 unit, and the base 10000 Eclipse becomes a base 11000 unit. For grades 1-2 this effectively lets you have eight types of base 8000 unit to ride and five to six kinds of base 10000. Furthermore, when you call Daylight to the rearguard you can discard any grade 3 Kagerou to add the final member of the series, Amber Dragon Eclipse, to your hand. So the subgroup is a defensive powerhouse and comes with grade security, but there are disadvantages to this setup.

First, since this predates the creation of Riviere and the modern evolution line, there is no compensation for missing your Daylight ride. Dawn will simply sit in the soul. Dawn is the only real alternative that Kagerou has to Conroe up until BT11, and because of his inability to leave the soul, he most directly favors the soul-heavy builds of the Vortex and Blazing Flare Dragons. Unfortunately, this means losing out on Conroe's search skill, significantly decreasing your chance to superior ride Blazing Flare when fusing the two decks. Dawn's skill also comes with coinflip odds to go off; he's in an unfortunate position, as a more consistent Amber Dragon deck would synthesize strategies by using Conroe with Daylight purely as a way to search Eclipse, and four copies of Dusk to more reliably trigger than continuous +1000 power.

Aside from the basic setup of the Amber line, the grade 2 Dusk is where the deck's unique skills first debut, gaining +2000 power when he attacks from the vanguard circle. This forms an easy 20-22000-power line with Bahr or Raopia--both of whom Conroe can search in the first place--partially answering gradelock just as Doranbau and Blaster Dark did for the Shadow Paladins. Also unlike his contemporaries, if you miss your Daylight ride, Dusk will be able to go for 11000 power on-attack, while the others would hang around and 9000 and most likely need to call a boosting unit.

To discuss the cornerstone of the deck, Amber Dragon Eclipse is like other BT04-era vanguards, a base 11000 unit when his grade 2 form is in the soul. His skill is something of a combination between Phantom Blaster Dragon and Evil Armor General, Giraffa. During the main phase, Eclipse's counterblast 2 gives him a new skill; when his attack hits, Eclipse can retire up to two of the opponent's rearguards. A -2 to the opponent for CB2 is a very good deal, and the on-hit requirement is not as difficult as it may initially appear. The low cost means that Eclipse can pressure the opponent to defend earlier when they have yet to really build up their resources, and before many skills have gone out, at a point when the opponent likely has a smaller field that caters to Raopia going for 21000 with Eclipse. This is a little redundant since generally you would want the opponent to have more cards on the field to give you more options for what to retire, but as long as there are at least two rearguards out, the activate can be made worth investing in.

Since Raopia's requirements and Eclipse's number of retire targets coincide, these two are natural partners. The main issue with this is then the wedding ring that it places on your counterblast, offsetting the direct advantage that Eclipse gets you when compared to Giraffa, Phantom Blaster Dragon and Stern Blaukluger. It's difficult to justify dedicating that counterblast 2 for a skill that's ostensibly not going to go off very often, but EB01: Comic Style Vol. 1 will introduce a remedy to this. For now consider that Berserk Dragon is not strictly necessary to the Amber Dragon deck, because Eclipse connecting is so much more valuable of a maneuver.

One way to assist in supporting Eclipse is with Garnet Dragon, Flash. Flash is a base 9000 grade 3 who when his attack hits, can give +3000 power to one Kagerou unit on the field. With this Eclipse can go for 21-22000 with Bahr or 20000 with Raopia when his skill is inactive. The opponent can answer this by guarding Flash, but then they have to contend with choosing between placing down enough cards to stop one trigger to guard Eclipse while at low damage after having already spent resources on Flash. Eclipse's strengths shine when the fight becomes a game of bad choices.

There is somewhat more room in this deck for Lava Arm Dragon than there is for Iron Cutter Beetle in the Giraffa deck or for DonnerSchlag in the Shadow Paladin deck. The reason for this is that unlike these decks which have Master Beetle and Dark Metal Dragon, the pure Amber Dragon deck does not ever make use of alternative grade 2 or 3 vanguards intentionally, and that with Berserk omitted there is considerably more space available. Lava Arm forms 17-18000 lines easily for face-offs with Majesty Lord Blaster and crossride decks, but as with any rearguard of this type, one should be wary of riding it and getting a base 5000 vanguard.

What Eclipse lacks in offensive sweeping and endgame power it makes up for in early pressure and cheap costs. Despite the dedication Eclipse requires on its counterblast, the skill is easy to pay and is only going to get easier to do so as later sets are released. It's valuable for forcing the opponent to choose between early defense or an early loss of formation, and while putting the decisions in the opponent's hands is generally not sound strategy, in this case most of the moves that they can make are bad ones.

Five pros use this deck.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Study Guide: Genesis

Scan provided by bunnykaikai, collage by Touya. Do not repost without the original scanner's permission.
The Genesis clan has a heavy legacy to live up to; not just as the first new clan of Link Joker, but also as the successors to Oracle Think Tank. Thematically, the cards from Genesis are based out of both Tsukuyomi's draw-based deck and Pale Moon's soul-based deck. This is a difficult bow to shoot; while that brings the defensive power of the Goddess to a fragile build, it also combines and exaggerates the weaknesses of soulcharging trigger units with rapid decking out, making for a deck that likes to pour cards both into its soul and hand all at once. Running Genesis is something that will demand utmost care and planning on part of the cardfighter.

Out of the box there are three options for your first vanguard; Cluster Hamster, Aiming for the Stars, Artemis and Battle Priestess, Tamayorihime. Hamster is one of the best generic FVGs thus far introduced, moving to the soul when an attack that he boosts hits in order to draw a card. This is important because Genesis' primary mechanic is using its built up soul to soulblast as a cost for drawing cards, and Hamster lets you basically exclude your FVG from the deck except for the purposes of becoming a soulblast by giving you access to the next card in automatically. This maintains higher hand size while fueling later additions to the hand. As their first unique FVG, Artemis is more of a mixed deal, because she's the basis for a evolving ride variant that's been developed out of Fullbau and Riviere. Initially, the mechanics are the same kind that were popularized from EB02-BT08; when you ride the grade 1 Bowstring of Heaven and Earth, Artemis, over Aiming for the Stars you can look at up to seven cards from the top of the deck for either Artemis' grade 2 or grade 3 form and add it to your hand. This maintains higher hand size just as Cluster Hamster does, but is dependent on riding a specific grade 1 within a limited window of time and can fail even if the activation requirements are met. If you miss your Bowstring ride and ride a different Genesis instead, Artemis does outride from the soul regardless to give you one more unit to boost or attack with and thus a one-card lead, but this is where she becomes a mixed bag. Genesis wants more cards in the soul, not less, so Cluster can be the better unit in this situation because he guarantees you a one-card advantage no matter what and added soul to use later on. Still, Artemis does make improvements to the evolution system.

For one, while Bowstring does gain +1000 power continuously for having her grade 0 form in the soul like previous evolving grade 1s, her skill is that when you ride a grade 2 over her other than the next stage in the Artemis line, you can look up at up to seven cards from the top of the deck to superior ride the grade 2 form. This is a spectacular improvement because it gives you added ride security over previous evolving units--security on par with Tsukuyomi herself--and for Genesis especially the skill is useful because it grants one extra card in the soul than Cluster Hamster could.

With regards to that extra soul, the grade 2 Twilight Hunter, Artemis improves upon it further. Her vanguard-exclusive skill is that when her attack hits the vanguard, she can soulcharge 2, then soulcharge 2 more if Bowstring is in the soul. Counting Bowstring's soulcharge, that comes out to 8 soul on the turn that you ride a grade 3, enough that you could have a megablast ready if you really wanted it out. This is far from the only soul support that the clan has. The grade 1 Battle Maiden, Tatsutahime counterblasts 2 when an attack that she boosts hits the vanguard to soulcharge 3, and she comes with a grade 2 equivalent, Saohime. This second Battle Maiden activates the same skill when her attack hits, allowing for up to a soulcharge 6 for counterblast 2. In an Artemis deck, Saohime makes for an excellent grade 2 ride, since you'll still have her as insurance if Bowstring's superior ride fails you. Ironically for an OraThin equivalent, between Artemis and Saohime, there's actually very little room for their Maiden of Libra equivalent, Caraway. In terms of other grade 1s though, Witch of the Cat, Cumin is the clan's Skull Juggler, and so plays king of the hill for direct, unstoppable soulcharging.

Taking a step back, Tamayorihime is the last FVG that we've yet to discuss. She's the lone base 5000 unit of the lot, being a more traditional outrider, and comes with Tatsutahime's soulcharge 3 attached, counterblast 2 and all. This is good in terms of soulcharging, since it guarantees you a unit that can bring in that powerful 3 soul and guarantees access to her from the earliest stages of the game, but also comes at a high price for a clan that's currently straining its counterblast from lack of a Cursed Lancer-type unit, or space for said Lancer, due to Artemis' grade 3 form making Twilight Hunter a four-of even if the previous entries in the evolution are omitted. Bowstring's ability to search out an additional 7 cards makes the evolving ride much more compelling for Genesis than it is for contemporary units, but since Aiming isn't any more or less consistent than contemporary FVGs of her type, the option does always remain open to run Tamayorihime with ether the rest of the evolving line intact to bring out that soulcharge 4, or just Twilight Hunter with her grade 3 form for their long-term benefits. Objectively speaking, Tamayorihime makes a stronger case for consistency because her skills will activate with more regularity than the Artemis line, but Bowstring upsets this considerably; it's a judgment call that's up to the individual cardfighter.

The main feature of the deck is Battle Deity of the Night, Artemis. Like previous evolving units, within the vanguard circle she gains +1000 power continuously when her grade 2 form is in the soul, setting Genesis apart as defense-heavy. And when she attacks, at limit break 4 Artemis can soulblast 3 to draw 2 cards and send 1 from the hand to the soul, then gain +5000 power; if this were OraThin and we had Milk this would make it very easy to have a 26000 line even in the late stages of a match due to the boost taking place after the attack, but instead we'll have to settle for capping out at 24-25000 with a base 8000 boost from Mikarihime or 9000 from one of their special boosters.

To assist her we have Witch of the Wolf, Saffron, an improved take on Gigantech Charger; in addition to gaining +2000 power in the rearguard when she attacks to assail base 11-12000 units, at limit break 4 Saffron gets +5000 power from the vanguard circle, making her a good alternative to Artemis and ensuring that a deck that runs 4/3 or 4/4 Artemis/Saffron will have no poor grade 3 ride. Special mention goes to Snipe Snake, a base 6000 grade 1 that can counterblast 1 when it boosts a unit with limit break 4 to give it +3000 additional power. This is still applicable even to rearguard units that have vanguard-exclusive limit breaks, meaning a consistent 21000 line with reaguard Saffron or 24000 with either of these vanguards.

To digress a bit, there are a pair of grade 1 and 2 units that don't particularly fit to any Genesis build, the Mice Guard series. A variation on the Beast Tamer cards, the grade 1 Sirius and grade 2 Orion are base 6000 and 8000 respectively, and gain +3000 power during your turn for having their counterpart in the soul. Together they form a 20000-power line, but Sirius is particularly relevant because that 9000 boost lets any base 9000 or higher unit go for the elusive 18000 line, and it makes Snipe Snake--and his counterblast cost--irrelevant. The problem with this is that outside of Battle Deity, specific soulcharging is not part of Genesis' game, and until they get a Dancing Princess of the Night Sky copy, the Mice Guard cards will consume too much deckspace for what they give considering that it would be better to run just one or two Orion and four Sirius.

One core point to playing Genesis is to recognize how much soul your deck really needs. This will be determined by what you consider your deck's win condition, that generally being how many times Artemis' limit break needs to go off. Most fighters would probably say that three times is all that it takes--because of Artemis' soulcharge 1 every time that her break activates, it does not take nine soul to fire off her limit break that many times. Seven soul becomes the goal of your deck, adding two for every additional break after that. This does come with one caveat; your last soulblast will remove Twilight Hunter from the soul, so either that last break must be for game or you'll need to push that goal up one soul.

Other than Artemis, Genesis also has the Eternal Goddess, Iwanagahime and the Oracle Queen, Himiko for alternative builds. Both of these units are Lord-type grade 3s, bringing the 11000 base of Artemis with virtually no restraining condition for a pure Genesis deck. Iwanagahime can soulblast 3 from the vanguard circle to gain +5000 power, automatically going for the 16000 baseline and hitting crossrides for 23000 efficiently with almost any boosting unit. Her limit break 4 is less long-term, at soulblast 6 to retire the opponent's front-row rearguards. This is a very powerful -2 at the opponent since it automatically removes units like Palamedes, Charger and Masquerade, but the problem with it is that a soul above 9 is not consistently sustainable for Iwanagahime.

Himiko is interesting because, as the clan's break ride, she can support either Artemis or Iwanagahime and be easily splashed into either build. Like Iwanagahime, Himiko is a base 11000 Lord unit; her initial autoskill is to soulcharge 1 when she attacks a vanguard to give her +1000 power until the end of the battle, becoming something of a variation on Vortex Dragon-type vanguards by forming a 12000-power vanguard line that can reach 20000 with Mikarihime or 21 with Snake/Sirius. At limit break 4, when you ride a Genesis unit over her, that unit gets +10000 power and an autoskill that lets it soulblast 3 on-attack to draw 1 card. Furthermore, two of your Genesis units get +5000 power when you activate the break ride, forming consistently powerful vanguard and rearguard lines to retaliate against defensive units. Since Himiko and her soulcharge 1 together provide 2 of that 3 soul already, her skills are very consistent when paired with Artemis, but they also add one soul onto the seven soul goal, making the final goal before factoring in Himiko's soulcharge a soul of 9. For the turn that you break ride, Artemis can then cap for 35000 power prior to triggers on that turn, and a +2 overall between her and Himiko. Himiko's +1 is really to counteract the -1 incurred from break riding in the first place, but it is helpful because unlike with other clans, Genesis has the longevity to survive for many turns after having initiated their break ride.

The direct base 11000 on these units is not a massive upgrade in consistency over Artemis because of Twilight Hunter already being such an amazing unit for the deck, and because of Battle Deity being able to selectively soulcharge a Twilight Hunter in her hand through her own limit break. Ultimately Iwanagahime is a deck of her own, one that benefits more from Tamayorihime with Bowstring and Twilight Hunter run together for their soulcharging, while Himiko is a general support unit for any Genesis deck. Genesis prides itself on defense, consistency and playing the long move. Played well, an Artemis cardfighter should never be concerned about how many turns they can survive; the answer is indefinitely, and the best played Genesis games of any build will lose exclusively to deck out.

Friday, February 15, 2013

News: Team League 2013, World Championship 2013 Announced


Just today Bushiroad has opened up about the Cardfight!! Vanguard Team League 2013, an international team tournament that drew much attention from what was seen on posters but that up until today very little of which was concretely known about.

Bushiroad's press release paints a clear picture of how the tournament is being structured, as the first international team tournament of its kind. Spread out over three months from April through July, the Team League will be held in North America, Europe and Asia-Oceania; each team will consist of three members in a three-on-three format unique to Bushiroad properties. As with the 2013 National Championship, tournaments begin at the shop qualifier level in April to May, progressing to regional qualifiers in select stores from May to June, and then go on to continental finals for each region in June to July. For North America, the continental finals will be in Los Angeles. Listings will open up in March 2013, and as with NC2013 there will be a last-minute qualifier the day before the continental finals.

Most surprisingly however, in something of a Steve Jobs "one more thing" moment, the very last line of the press release confirms what many have been speculating on for some time now, that there will be a World Championship 2013 in the latter half of the year. The original press release is presented below, unmodified.
"FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bushiroad Announces Cardfight!! Vanguard Team League 2013
Singapore, February 15, 2013 – Bushiroad South East Asia Pte Ltd and Bushiroad USA Inc announced a new Cardfight!! Vanguard tournament series: the Team League 2013. This will be the first ever Bushiroad-sanctioned international team tournaments in Cardfight!! Vanguard.
The Cardfight!! Vanguard Team League 2013 is a three-stage, team tournament campaign running from April through July across the North American, Europe and Asia-Oceania regions.
Players of all ages may form teams, consisting of three members, to face against rival teams in a continental level championship utilizing Bushiroad’s unique three-on-three team tournament format. Participating teams will receive promotional goods unique to Team League 2013.
The tournament structure is split across three phases; open shop qualifiers from April to May, regional qualifiers in selected tournament stores from May to June, and continental finals for each region in end June to July.
Tournament shops currently registered with Bushiroad will be eligible to hold open shop qualifiers.
The open shop qualifiers will be open to all teams across all three regions. These qualifiers will be listed on the Cardfight!! Vanguard website in March 2013. The top placing teams in each shop qualifier will receive an invitation to regional qualifiers in selected tournament stores in their specific regions. Regional qualifier team champions will be awarded with invitations and travel/lodging fees to the continental finals in their region. Second placing teams will only be awarded invitations to the continental finals in each region.
The finals for the North American region will be held in Los Angeles, CA, in July, with a venue to be confirmed. An open qualifier for the Team League will take place the day before the Team League finals (venue and date TBD), for players who have missed their chance on participating in the open shop qualifiers.
The finals for the European region will be held in the United Kingdom in July, with a venue and specific date to be confirmed.
The finals for the Asia-Oceania region will be held in Singapore in end June/early July, with a venue and specific date to be announced. Similar to the North American Team League qualifiers, an open qualifier will take place the day before at the same venue.
More details will be revealed on the Cardfight!! Vanguard website and Facebook pages as the dates draws near.
Bushiroad concluded their first international tournament series: World Championship 2012, in December 2012. The World Championship 2012 focused on individual players. The World Championship 2013 will be held in the latter half of 2013."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Kagerou Extra Study Material: Blazing Flare Dragon

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
Introduced in BT02: Onslaught of Dragon Souls, the Blazing Flare line of units are like Aleph before them, a superior ride series for Kagerou. While their mechanics are not always consistent and later sets improved upon them greatly, there are still unique benefits to the ride line and their expansion on Kagerou's use of the soul can be a valuable asset.

The core units of the series are its three sealed dragons, the grade 0 Gattling Claw Dragon, grade 1 Iron Tail Dragon and grade 2 Blazing Core Dragon. Gattling Claw we discussed previously as Kagerou's counter to most FVGs; Iron Tail is Kagerou's equivalent to Knight Squire Alen, a base 7000 grade 1 that can counterblast 1 to gain +1000 power. This can be repeated additional times, and the unit is universally valuable to Kagerou in the crossride format where it forms very easy 18000 lines as an alternative to Bahr, so there's very little reason not to run these units in the first place. Blazing Core is where our attention belongs, as unlike the other units he has no use in the rearguard, but in the vanguard circle Core can counterblast 1 to move Gattling Claw and Iron Tail to the soul, uniting the sealed dragons to revive the build's focus card, Blazing Flare Dragon. This lets you ride Blazing Flare from the deck, giving some additional grade security so that you can ride even if you don't have a grade 3 in hand, and it gives you 3 extra soul which you can spend on skills. Like Aleph, the math for the superior ride breaks down to (-2 +2) a net difference of 0 but having a one-turn early twin drive means that you will have more opportunities to check for triggers during the overall game than you would otherwise.

The main flaw with this superior ride is its consistency. This type of ride was revived for later sets like BT06: Breaker of Limits and BT09: Clash of the Knights and Dragons, but in those sets it was modified so that the necessary grade 0 was a first vanguard for that clan, an advantage that Gattling Claw certainly does not have. Gattling Claw and Iron Tail at the least can be searched by Conroe, but Blazing Core demands card changing with Aermo and Gojo to be sought out reliably.

As for Blazing Flare's actual skills, his V/R autoskill gives him +3000 power whenever an opponent's rearguard is retired in the main phase. This is a very nice skill, particularly because in the rearguard it lets him go for 21000 with Bahr by letting Kagerou do what it does best, while in the vanguard the skill is actually more relevant than ever because it forms a 23000 line with Raopia, providing an alternative to jumping onto crossrides in the BT05-on format. Blazing Flare Dragon's vanguard-exclusive activate skill is to soulblast 5 to retire any of the opponent's rearguards, which is perfect for clearing out back row units that you wouldn't normally be allowed to touch, or troublesome units that the opponent would otherwise staunchly defend in direct battle like Palamedes and Silent Tom. The main issue is feeding the soul, as when that superior ride does go off Flare will have just four soul if Conroe is used as the FVG, and five with Undeux. Kimnara and additional Gattling Claw units remedy this somewhat by providing that fifth soul, but that superior ride will not always go off to begin with.

To answer this, Blazing Flare has natural partners in the Flame Edge and Vortex Dragons from our previous module. Flame Edge makes that fifth soul much easier to get as it no longer costs counterblast, while Vortex provides a good alternative ride if you miss your Blazing Flare ride, as Vortex with his main phase soulcharge will provide 2 soul for Flare to use later. Further down the line Vortex will be able to provide an alternative strategy to switch to when Flare Dragon is not viable in a particular match, but we'll have to wait until we get to damage unflipping in Kagerou to really dig into that.

While Blazing Flare Dragon's autoskill is already supported by Berserk Dragon, Kimnara and Gattling Claw, he also has support in Follower, Reas and Chain-Attack Sutherland. These are paired units like Jarran and Tejas from before, Reas being a grade 1 with 6000 power and Sutherland a grade 2 with 8000. Reas receives a special bonus from boosting Sutherland, bringing him up to 18000 power, but unlike Tejas before him Sutherland's skill is to gain +3000 power in the main phase when an opponent's rearguard is retired, bumping their line up to 21000. This is important because like Tejas, their 18000 line is still relevant post-BT05, but they also have the potential to hit base 10000 and 11000 units hard and if you pull off two retires in one turn through one of the above units or Flare himself, Sutherland with Reas will be at 24000 while Blazing Flare stands at 16000 independently, guaranteeing a 23000-power line with any unit of base 7000 or higher power.

Another way to play the deck is to integrate with Aleph. More than half of the components of both superior ride lines are in some way integral to the clan, and running the two units together gives variable options by allowing the damage zone to be reused, the opponent's units to be retired freely and for powerful rearguards to be set up by those same retire skills. This all but eliminates the issue of grade security by guaranteeing successful rides; that kind of consistency is not to be underestimated, considering what has made it to the restricted list before.

The Blazing Flare deck is valuable because it plays a strong early and midgame that hits all of the right numbers, going for 16-18000 consistently each turn, while at the endgame it can suddenly and explosively bring out 21, 23 and 26000-power lines to hit the opponent hard when they're at four and five damage over multiple turns. Pacing is a serious issue that needs to be carefully controlled, and Blazing Flare cardfighters should watch and play for their soul. The initial setup as a general rule should be to put together five soul to prepare for the endgame; if it becomes manageable, ten can become a goal but is a very lofty one and will probably only come out in specific matches. Blazing Flare Dragon's activate skill should be used with care and reserved for especially important units like Milk or Tron, not just to wantonly trigger his autoskill.

Next time that we revisit Kagerou, I will discuss the Amber Dragon cards and how to apply Shadow Paladin tactics to the Kagerou clan.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Royal Paladin Extra Study Material: Fang of Light, Garmore

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
The Garmore deck is unique among the Royal Paladin builds in that it is a High Beast deck. Much as Pale Moon has a Chimera deck, and Kagerou has a Flame Dragon deck, Garmore is a race-specific build. Coming out of BT04: Eclipse of Illusionary Shadows, this deck expands on the discard-and-search mechanics of the set to create a consistent Beast Knight strategy. No matter how poorly any individual fight goes, the Garmore cardfighter will almost always be able to bring out their strategy, one that persists throughout every stage of a match.

The build's intended first vanguard is Brugal, a base 4000 power first vanguard that outrides from the soul when ridden over with another Royal Paladin. His other skill is to gain +1000 power for each other Brugal on your field, but this isn't terribly practical because it requires running 18 grade 0s to make use of and that second grade 0 would probably be better off staying in your hand where its high shield can be used for defense. However, Brugal plays into another unit's skill that we'll get to soon enough. To understand Brugal, you have to understand the context from which he came out of; at the time of Brugal's original release, Barcgal had already been restricted for two months, and the only alternative RoyPala cardfighters had presented to them was Drangal. Brugal is then primarily a replacement for the 4000-power FVG that the clan had lost, but unfortunately his inability to return to the soul or contribute to it made him a poor replacement in that respect. For Garmore, the problem was and is Brugal's low base power, which inevitably requires him to be replaced to make way for Marron or Toypugal, voluntarily getting rid of his one-card lead. Soul Saver-based Royal Paladin cardfighters used Drangal to keep their soul high, Garmore-based fighters used Drangal to keep the field open for more useful rearguards, and thus left no one running the blue highdog.

The two core cards for the deck are the grade 3 Fang of Light, Garmore and grade 1 Snogal. Snogal continuously gains +1000 power for each other Snogal on the field over its 6000 base; Garmore has this same boost in the vanguard circle while also being able to discard any Royal Paladin to call a Snogal from the deck. The chief advantage then is being able to run up to eight base 8000 boosting units between Snogal and Marron, freeing you up to run more 8000-power grade 2s and make anticrossride 18000 lines easier with Gallatin and Lamorak.

Garmore's ability to search for Snogals is shared by the grade 2 Beast Knight, Garmore, who falls into that same 8000 baseline that the Snogals are so effective at supporting. Beast Knight and Akane are transformed by the Snogal strategy, into multiple copies of Macha. The ideal formation for the deck is clearly three Snogals in the back line for a 21000 Garmore and the guaranteed 16-18-21000 lines in the rearguard, but even two Snogals lets Garmore go boosted for 18000+ every turn, enduring into the crossride format much as Alfred has. Unlike Kiyomi's Alfred, consistent base 8000 rearguards take the spotlight over the extra advantage of an unneeded circle, and Garmore can also go for 21000 when necessary. Palamedes is still the best offensive support for Garmore that he is for the King of Knights, thanks to Snogal behaving as additional copies of Marron.

Garmore also gets his boost from having Brugal on the field, a clause which helpfully circumvents one of Brugal's weaknesses. This is a roundabout way for Brugal to be a base 5000 FVG, and at the middle stages of a match this does have some use as with one Snogal on the field Garmore hits 16000. Outside of these core units, the deck also has fringe support from High Dog Breeder Seiran, Akane's male counterpart. Instead of her counterblast 2, Seiran has a counterblast 1 on-call, giving +4000 power to one High Beast on the field. This can temporarily throw Snogal up to 12000, going for 25 with Garmore and Palamedes, or 16000 with Brugal while Seiran in his own line can hit 16 with Snogal's usual boost. Another fringe card is Starlight Unicorn, who has been around since the trial deck days but hasn't had much of a place in Royal Paladin until this definitive High Beast deck was conceived. Unicorn is a base 6000 unit that gives +2000 power to another RoyPala on-call; this can be a useful single copy because she is searchable by Akane and through that search can bump a Garmore-Snogal line up to 23000 with a net difference in advantage of 0 after replacing her, while crossrides are forced to drop 20000 shield to account for one trigger on that boosted Garmore.

The advantages to the Garmore deck are relatively simple and intrinsic to the cards, but as stated previously, consistency is the key feature. As long as you have one of the Garmores in hand, any card in the deck can become Snogal. Akane and Palamedes enhance it, while outlier cards offer ways to customize the build to meet current challenges. Next time that we revisit the Royal Paladins, I'll be discussing Majesty Lord Blaster and how to synthesize a coherent play style from Shadow Paladin supporters.

Three pros use this deck.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Nova Grappler Extra Study Material: Stern Blaukluger

Photo by rawritzrichii, not to be reposted elsewhere without the original photographer's express permission.
One of the main curiosities behind Nova Grappler from BT01 to BT03 is that despite being Cardfight's stand-based clan, they had no way to reliably stand their vanguard. Mr. Invincible's megablast receives honorable mention for working hard toward it, but without reliable soulcharging his megablast was very difficult in its time even with multiple Invincibles on the field. Enter the Blau series, an evolving line of units that answers this strategic gap with a reliable, repeatable skill that never quite loses its impact regardless of what point in the game or what format you're in.

The core cards for the Blau series are by and large lifted from the Shadow Paladin evolutions, but with Nova Grappler-specific modifications made to them. The subgroup's first vanguard, Blaujunger, automatically adds the deck's grade 2 Blaukluger to the hand when ridden over with the grade 1 Blaupanzer; and Blaupanzer gains +2000 power in the vanguard circle from having Blaujunger in the soul. As with Blaster Javelin and Charon, between Blaupanzer and Tough Boy that makes for a strong opening defense and offense, as you now have eight types of units in the deck that will form an 8000 power vanguard as opposed to the typical four.

Blaupanzer can also search for the grade 3 Stern Blaukluger when called to the rearguard, by discarding another Nova Grappler grade 3. This means that you can run as few as two Stern Blaukluger and still consistently ride him, although maxing out at four is optimal for this subgroup because it does not rely on any particular alternative grade 3 as the Shadow Paladins do. The main flaw with Blaujunger is that there is no compensation for missing his evolution. While up until BT06: Breaker of Limits Blaujunger was the default FVG for any build of the clan not relying on the Raizer series, these days it's more common to see other, more consistent first vanguards run in Blaujunger's place. Beast Deity, White Tiger is one such option, as he makes for a consistent boosting unit that can make a 16000 line with the clan's intended vanguard as well as a number of base 11000 Grappler rearguards, but the Beast Deity strategy isn't particularly coherent with the Blau series and this should be treated as a temporary holdover at best until Extra Booster 4.

Like the rest of the cards in this subgroup, Blaukluger borrows from the Shadow Paladins, being a base 9000 grade 2 that gains +1000 power in the vanguard circle when the grade 1 Blaupanzer is in the soul. His unique skill is to unflip a damage when his attack hits, albeit only in the vanguard circle, and while this lacks the pressure of an on-ride retire or of Megacolony's take on the evolution, it combos well with Genocide Jack and other counterblast-intensive rearguards. His main use is giving +1000 power to a vanguard Stern Blaukluger, making a defensively strong base 11000 unit that also forms 16-18000 lines easily.

Stern himself is where the cards become interesting. When his attack hits, Stern can counterblast 2 and drop two Nova Grapplers from the hand to stand both himself and his boosting unit, then lose twin drive. This gives (-2 +1) a -1 overall, but the important point is that because Stern will retain any trigger effects placed on him between battles, he can snowball quickly and deal as much as four damage in one turn with just one critical trigger. The potential is there for him to deal up to six damage in one turn, and Stern can do this from any point in the midgame onward--as long as there's two counterblast open and two cards in hand, the grade 3 Blaukluger is a serious threat. With the plethora of unflipping units that the Nova Grapplers have access to, getting two counterblast is by no means a difficult task.

In terms of support units, Dancing Wolf from the previous module is a standout booster for Stern. Wolf standing will form a 21000 line, and as the power of boosting units is added continuously, one stand trigger can throw their line up to 26000 power. This effectively turns one trigger into two, meaning that versus a Blau series deck that runs stand triggers and has Wolf for support, the opponent will have to guard for two triggers every turn that they want to stop Stern. Even without those however, should Stern drive check a critical trigger and bring out his self-standing skill, his line will again be at 26000 and critical 2, ready to deal a grand total of four damage in that turn.

Just as the Shadow Paladins have DonnerSchlag, the Nova Grapplers have Eisenkugel; a grade 2, base 10000 unit that gains +2000 power when attacking and loses 5000 power if the vanguard isn't Blaukluger or Stern Blaukluger. This is a little more playable for the Nova Grapplers because the Blau series isn't as reliant on alternative grade 3s as the Shadow Paladins are, but not by a very far margin. Having a base 5000 grade 2 vanguard is arguably worse than being gradelocked, as the opponent can lay down their hand much more freely and roll right over your defenses. To make a better case for Kugel, he can form very easy 18000 lines versus crossrides and a 20000 line with Tough Boy for defensively weaker units like Alfred, and grade 2 space is more flexible in the Blau deck, which leaves room for one or two copies of him to be run in relative safety.

The naming scheme of the Blau series comes from German; Blaujunger was probably intended as "Blue Youth," Blaupanzer "Blue Armor," Blaukluger "Blue Clever," Stern Blaukluger "Blue Clever Star" and Eisenkugel "Iron Ball." Japanese media is somewhat preoccupied with the German language just as American media is French, and the Blau series as a whole could be taking influence from Super Robot Wars in that respect, where units like Alteisen ("Scrap Iron") and Weissritter ("White Knight") crop up.

Overall the Blau cards are nothing if not consistent. Being able to ride Stern Blaukluger in very nearly every game, and have access to a third drive check from a unit that can hit the power of two triggers with just one provides a healthy basic strategy that later releases will expand on. With units like Clay-doll Mechanic and Storm from both past and upcoming modules to support the deck, Stern Blaukluger is something of a timeless card that never quite falls away from the pro scene.

Six pros use this deck.

Friday, February 8, 2013

News: National Championship 2013, Stand Up Challenge Cup

Just today Bushiroad has announced the start dates for the 2013 North American national championship, opening the 2013 tournament season with the second national level competition to shake the continent. This championship will follow a considerably different design scheme from the previous one, beginning at the shop level rather than the regional; the top two winners in local shop tournaments--of which there are currently 270--will be invited to one of the 25 regional qualifiers, victory at which will allow them to proceed to the championship finals in June.
This three-stage format follows the double elimination, twenty minute single round format of previous tournaments, and will allow for last minute qualification on the day before the championship. In all, there are projected to be more than 500 participants in the regionals and 50 in the finals, only one of which can be crowned the 2013 National Champion. The 2012 champion and celebrated cardfighter Brandon Smith is already known to be making a return appearance, leading some to speculate that the United States may soon have a Rikino Sakura of its own. The original press release is presented below, unmodified.
"FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bushiroad USA Inc. Announces Cardfight!! Vanguard Stand Up Challenge Cup 2013

Walnut, CA, February 8, 2013 – Bushiroad USA Inc. announced a new Cardfight!! Vanguard tournament for North America: the Stand Up Challenge Cup 2013.

The Cardfight!! Vanguard Stand Up Challenge Cup 2013 is a three-stage, one-on-one player tournament running from March to June, and is a tournament exclusive to North America. Players will participate in store qualifiers for a chance to win invitations to the regional qualifiers. With over 270 stores signed on, only the first and second place finishers at each qualified store will receive an invitation to the regional qualifiers.

There will be 25 regional qualifiers spread throughout the United States, with one regional qualifier for Mexico and one regional qualifier for Canada. The winner of each regional qualifier will receive an invitation to the Stand Up Challenge Cup finals along with airfare and hotel accomodations. Second place finishers from each regional will only receive invitations to the finals.

The Stand Up Challenge Cup finals is scheduled to take place on June 2, venue to be announced. A last minute qualifier will take place the day before on June 1 at the same venue.

Further details and updates about the Stand Up Challenge Cup 2013 can be found at  http://cf-vanguard.com/en/event/stand-up-2013/."