Sep 2, 2013

Understanding Cards

cardfight-vanguard-ep-43-3 When a new card comes out, often the immediate knee-jerk reaction is to “ooh!” and “aah!” or call it shit. But often times, we all later collectively come to understand the card and its limitations which gives us a new perspective. Most of the time, the card text hasn’t changed between that time period, so what has changed? Clearly it’s our understanding of the cards themselves. And the fact that so many people change their reactions to cards once the novelty has worn off shows that there’s clearly something fishy going on there.

Knee-jerk reactions, as it seems, are poorly suited to understanding the card dynamics of Vanguard. Much like Yu-Gi-Oh or other TCGs, the new set often makes starry-eyed fans giggle in anticipation. But in games like YGO, there’s a clear difference between the people who stay star-struck for their first tournament and the people that have a clearer vision about the new release.

Did you predict that Plaguespreader Zombie would become an instant hit? What about Cyber Dragon? The difference between the people who won the first wave of tournaments, taking advantage of these new cards, and the rest of the people was that they looked at cards with clarity and non-bias. The same is true for Vanguard. If we look at a card, Dragon Monk Goku for example, we can see that he gives decent advantage during a given game, and that advantage comes in the form of dead boosters which allows you to guard for less, thus conserving yet more cards. Pretty much everyone agrees that Goku is a great card. But this was not always so.

During the beginning of the English release, Goku was rarely used in decks except for new players that had just bought a trial (to wit: Yaksha was used four times as often). Even after BT02, you still had people using cards like Embodiment of Victory, Aleph without a clear winning image and over Goku. Or even Vortex Dragon.  In fact English players, despite having the entire online Japanese community for reference, often thought Goku and cards like him were bad because they relied on “sack”, not realizing that Grade 3 checkers actually just add to events that occur during drive check.

Even more recent examples like Phantom Blaster Dragon can show that the large majority of players got swept up in the novelty of the set release as we all look back differently on him. I think recent examples show emphatically that this is not just due to English players being new to the game. By the time of PBD, a good number of players had at least a year of experience.


Let’s fix it

Clearly this is an important issue—you want to see cards as they are and build your new tournament decks optimally—but how do we solve it? Aren’t the players who noted Goku and Cyber Dragon just somehow better than everyone else? Aren’t they just more experienced? Well, maybe. But they also have mental shortcuts for understanding those cards. What we need to do is develop some of these shortcuts and techniques for ourselves.

  1. First, and this is very important, calm the hell down. I know that sounds like a buzzkill, but it really is important to being able to even read the card correctly. Often times, in our excitement, we miss important details about the card such as “hit a vanguard”. In addition, you’re more likely to be overly favorable if you feel excited. Everything you read will be colored by that excitement. Personally, I wait and get excited after I read so I don’t have that problem.
  2. Second, read each card skeptically. What do I mean by that? To be a skeptic is to investigate something rather than take it at face value. Bushiroad is notorious for writing out skills that look big and amazing but actually fall short in practice. Or look ‘normal’ but end up being ridiculous. Reading skeptically means not accepting the card at face-value immediately after you read it.
  3. Third, “chunk” it into bite-sized pieces. I’ll explain later how to do that, but immediately after you read it, you’ll try to visualize the process of the card mutely and remember it in shorter chunks than was written by Bushiroad.
  4. Fourth, compare it with known cards. What you’ll do is look at the chunked effects and costs, find cards that are as similar to that as possible (grade, power, skills, costs) and quickly compare them to see what the differences are. If the compared card is good, bad, medium or whatever, the differences change that overall score. We’ll go over this in more detail later.
  5. Now that you understand the card, don’t try to only come up with the best case scenarios or really chance-based outcomes. Look at it and at least come up with what’s likely to be the average.

Now you have an outline of how to approach a card. Let’s try it out and walk through this process.

Intentionally left large for clarity

Intentionally left large for clarity

Eradicator Vowing Sword Dragon. First we calm ourselves (he does look pretty awesome), then read it skeptically. Don’t buy into the hype just yet. No-cost retire and free +2 stages of power can throw you off. Let’s chunk it for clarity. Visualize in your mind that you have this unit on your vanguard circle. Then visualize some card coming down on top of it, one of your opponent’s attackers falling off the playmat, and your vanguard getting +2 stages of power. Because you have to be in late game to use it, you should also imagine yourself with four damage. Now that you’ve visualized it, it should be easier to discuss it succinctly. Obviously, you assume a mono-clan deck so you could just describe it as “Ride-over-Late, kill front, +2 stage (V)”. You can see that means there’s 2 skills and one “cost” of riding over.

But there’s a problem. We still think of this as giving +1 card advantage in the form of a retire. In reality, you must ride over it so it really just converts a Grade 3 unit in your hand into a dead attacker for the opponent as a +0. Now we need a good comparison. First let’s handle the power. In late game, Power Breakers (like Garmore or Cocytus) get +1 stage for free during each turn. Since late game is only expected to last 2 turns usually, it means that’s +2 stages total, spread out. This break ride unit takes those two stages and just condenses them into one turn. You won’t get your power during the second turn and it’s kind of wasted during the turn you do get it since 3 stages is already “perfect-guard or nothing” territory. Getting +2 stages would be most useful if you didn’t have a booster.

What about cycling? Well, that’s usually a counterblast cost of 1, so it seems Vowing can get the same sort of skill as a front-row only Kimnara but for less counterblast. However, things are not as they seem: since you have to keep him on the Vanguard circle until late game, this brings an opportunity cost of not being able to sit on other vanguards that could do things during midgame like Rumble Gun. Maybe that’s worth the missing counterblast 1. If you did this process during announcement day for Vowing Sword, you probably weren’t incredibly impressed by him. If you didn’t, you were probably overly-gracious (even myself and fellow VMundi think-tankers were a bit overgracious).

Obviously you still need to test the card, but this is how you go about formulating a good hypothesis. Rather than just get excited or angry at each card that comes out, it helps to look at them with scrutiny and understanding. For example, there are some rules of thumb that you probably won’t notice when reading certain cards. When you’re assuming that you’re in late game (and thus LB4), most of the time your opponent is too; else you have fallen way behind. Under that condition, what is weak for you is weak for them. If you have a late-game only +1 Critical to your vanguard, that’s pretty unnecessary.

Why? Because people already have to guard your vanguard anyway, so adding an additional critical doesn’t really help. If they don’t guard the vanguard, it’s because they couldn’t (rare) and a checked critical trigger would do the exact same thing. With 12-critical being extremely common among clans, that’s not a stretch to assume. Criticals are on-hit skills, basically; and that should tell you something about all on-hit skills that are confined to late game: probably not worth your time. So given that, let’s look at some common rules-of-thumb for dissecting Vanguard cards; each of these are taken from meta-gaming tests and reasoning or from precedent established by the mainstream cards already existing. Not from one-off exceptions.


No thumbs allowed, apparently.

Rules of Thumb for Vanguard Analysis:

  • Any on-hit in late game (LB:4) is unlikely to matter much. You’d have to be way behind for it to even hit. It matters so little, in fact, that you can basically discount any card with LB and an on-hit altogether.
    • Critical skills are the same as on-hit (since you lose the opportunity if you are guarded)
    • LB:5, while it counts as late game, is a special case where they can hold you back a turn or more and in addition, you’d have to be waaaay behind for an on-hit of this magnitude to count.
  • Cards with LB that have other skills can be less useful when restricted to late game. For example, Farah’s soulcharging, in Pale Moon, is practically useless by Late Game, as is Coral Aurora for Bermuda Triangle. This is because soul in PM and BT must be gained during midgame for switch-out gambits to be used. In the case of PM in particular, most of the units that swap out after soul-setup have to hit, which we already established is terribly difficult in late game to the point of being ignorable.
  • Costs typically follow a very predictable pattern for resources.
    • Counterblasts follow a ratio-to-advantage of approximately 2:1. CB2 generally gets you +1, depending on the type of card being used. For direct advantage, this usually means some limitation (think Berserk Dragon and Blaster Blade’s grade target limits). A CB:1 generally means an opportunity for +1 either by conservation, power to achieve another possible stage of attack, or a cycle at +0 that may result in +5k shield. A CB:3 is generally more optimally priced at 3:2. This means you get slightly more bang-for-buck from a vanguard unit that costs CB:3 on average.
    • Soul Blasts follow approximately a 1:1.5 ratio of counterblasts. That is, a soul is worth 1.5 CB, or 2 CB is worth SB:3 (no more is this more apparent than in clan Genesis).
    • On-Call typically allows you to keep a higher base power unit with good skills (like advantage) because it limits you to once per call (meaning once for most clans).
    • On-Hit or On-vanguard-hit allows you to reuse the same skill and power as an on-call with the trade off being that your opponent has final say on if it occurs. This translates into pressure & threat, but are typically no good on their own.
    • Persona Blast translates to requiring 2 of a specific unit to activate a skill. Given that you run 4 copies, we know, from frequency analysis, that you should have a second copy right at about late game (though there is standard deviation that can bleed into midgame, for stuff like Dragonic Overlord The End). Without a direct searcher, generally a Persona Blast goes off once per game on average and by Late Game, though it has the added opportunity cost of not being able to call either of the units required because you need to ride and discard them (meaning you have virtually less attackers in that deck). It’s also a net -1 before the skill resolves.
    • Discarding is obvious though it should be noted that Retiring, while also a minus, is slightly undervalued to discarding. Bushiroad apparently values cards in hand (Stern -2) more than cards on field (Duke -3). While in strictest terms, that might be somewhat true, it’s not yet quantifiable in a direct sense, so I’m only separating them to let you know Bushiroad themselves tend to value them differently even if it may not be necessarily true.
  • Effects can grant hidden benefits.
    • Standing a Vanguard has a few conditionals that result in virtual advantage. Standing a vanguard with or without Twin Drive (as long as it’s 2 stages of power or more) is at least a -2 in all cases unless the opponent wishes to get hit, explained below. If you see a unit stand a vanguard that you know will get power (such as from itself or a break ride) regardless of its twin drive conditional, it should be considered a +2. As it should generally anyway since you have slightly higher than 50% chance to check at least 1 trigger for power to vanguard for the second check.
    • Damage to Card ratio is approximately 1.5:1. Where damage counts for approximately 1.5 cards in advantage. This is a rough figure worked out from testing and is not the case over the sum of histories of a game, but of specific gambits such as placing triggers onto rear-guards, etc and works out to 1.5 strictly from taking a mean card-to-damage ratio. More specifically, 1 damage is worth 2 stages of guard as well. Therefore you can work out the approximate cost a card should be for giving you +1 Critical by multiplying the extra damage by 1.5 for the extra cost. Example: a card costs CB:2 for +1 advantage. It would therefore cost CB:3 for +1 Crit instead. It also means advantage can be traded for critical at a 1.5 ratio. A unit can therefore gain temporary +1 Critical for -2 cards and that would be approximately fair after rounding up. Or +2 Critical for -3 cards for an exact amount.
    • Checking a unit should be tended for the probability of drive checking that unit versus the benefit it gives you, aka the expected value. So if the approximate probability to check a grade 3 all game is 35%, then you get approximately +0.35 advantage per drive check. Therefore, you must multiply this until you get a whole number of at least one and find the number of turns. In this case, 35% needs roughly 3 turns to become +1 and if you don’t have 3 turns, then you can’t get advantage on average. For this reason, checkers tend to do poorly in late game where the number of turns is generally 1-2 and also not worth the opportunity cost of riding them. They work best in midgame. Also Ride Chains work the same way where you should look at the expected value (chance averaged to value) against the number of cards you’d have to run (usually 9 or 13) and see if it’s worth it. For example Duke requires 13 cards to be run and averages +0.26 per game.
    • Power is generally on a stage ratio of 1:2. CB:2 generally gives you 1 stage of power without any strings attached (this even holds true if you think about it in a convoluted way such as CB:2 for Cosmic Beak’s +4k on a Daiyusha which gives him +1 Critical). Generally CB:2 is +4k or +5k in this way to any unit. CB:2 for +5k+ is usually conditional on specific units (such as a self-boost for CB:1 at +3k-5k). Power is a bit wonky to calculate for but essentially: vanguards don’t need it ever in midgame (unless they can get it, keep it, and don’t have a booster: see Alfred). And vanguards only need +1 stage per turn of late game to be 3 stages and therefore optimal. Past 3 stages in late game usually won’t matter anyway because perfect guards are likely to have shown up twice in the opponent’s hand. Rear-guard power that results in a +1 stage is invaluable in midgame and pretty good late game. Generally power only matters on rear-guards at all unless your vanguard stands.
    • A condition of not-hitting hedges your bets so that you can gain something no matter what the situation. For example, if you attack in Tachikaze during late game and they no-guard, you get a large chance to at least 1 crit for game. If they guard, the opponent must -2, then you can Dark Rex for -3 of your own (which is usually -1 when used with recooperation) and you gain +2 from Twin Drive and +2 from them having to block this new attack. Overall a significant split of either win~almostwin/+3~+1 (the ~ indicates the two outcomes per…outcome). A card giving multiple outs is generally far in excess of useful over a card with only one much better single out.
    • Drawing vs Getting cards means that drawing a blind card is generally not as useful or as valued as getting the same +1 some other way. The reason for this is that unknown advantage is generally going to trend toward the average (attacker, 7k, 1 stage shield is the average pull’s properties). That means if you possibly can, you want to search a unit. Cocytus and Garmore’s superior calls are worth far more than a card that has the same CB:2 just to draw 1. Which is why they’re on-ride and not on-call or on-hit. Sniping a card from the field is also generally worth more than drawing 1 since you know exactly what you’re getting rid of versus not knowing what you’re getting. Choice is the key element.


This is by no means an exhaustive list so I won’t go into all the exceptions, fuzziness, conditionals, and different costs but essentially these are some pretty good guidelines to start out with. They’re not the end-all-be-all of analyzing cards but they certainly help you better formulate a hypothesis before testing it, and therefore help you look at cards as they’re released. Though this article is primarily geared toward solving the problem of “New Card Syndrome” it also helps any newbies who haven’t yet seen the existing library and don’t know how those cards work. With these in mind, let’s take a look at another card and see if we can decide its overall value.

[AUTO](V) {LB:4} :[Choose three of your rear-guards with "Revenger" the card name, and retire them] At the close step of the battle that this unit attacked, you may pay the cost. If you do, choose up to one card named “Revenger, Raging Folm Dragon” from your hand, ride it as [Stand], and choose your vanguard, and that unit gets [Power]+10000 until end of turn.

I’ve placed my translation for Raging Folm Dragon in the caption since it’s not in English yet. Also it’s unclear if this is Raging Folm (meaning “hand” or “palm”, and his certainly is raging) or Form, but Bushiroad is retarded so whatever they translate it to, I’m sure it’ll be wrong.

SP ArtFirst, let’s look at the cost. Persona Blast which is strictly net -1 and frequency tells us we get that second copy by late game. So essentially the LB:4 only makes sure that our standard deviation for getting the second copy is cut off before late game but not after (meaning something like The End can be used if you happen to deviate and get it at the last turn of midgame, but Folm waits another turn).

No big deal, the LB:4 is practically a non-condition. The Persona also will automatically lower the virtual number of attackers your deck has by 4 since you won’t want to call any of them until late game, thus changing your opportunity costs. With that aside, let’s look at the benefits.

Given that you’re guaranteed to stand merely by meeting the condition of -1 and -3 from the field (-4 total), your benefits of standing for 3 stages (and therefore instant -2 to the opponent by bare minimum) and +2 from Twin Drive mean that you virtually get a +0 for Raging Folm. Since the difference comes out of the opponent’s hide, this means that Folm literally converts units on your field into units from the opponent’s hand.

When viewed in this direct manner, Folm is a once-per-game-average way to knock out 2 additional 10k shields, or 4 stages (or another PG + another card). That means Folm is best used as a game-ender, but if it fails, your hand recharge was sufficient to keep you alive and still call a unit or two. Given this, Folm is a decent card and doesn’t have a heavy opportunity cost that prevents you from playing extremely excellent alternatives. The cost is heavy (-4) but the return is equally heavy (+4).

Played with care, you can use these heavy changes in advantage to end the game instead of break even, but you at least should break even if you don’t end the game. Thus Folm is generally stated to be all-benefit, low-downside. Since it’s a +0, it probably should’ve been costed to CB:1 additionally, but the Persona Blast conditional makes up for this with its chance-base and opportunity cost of lowering attackers. Thus it’s not broken, but right on par.


Hopefully this helped you learn how to look at cards and analyze them more effectively. We can see from this exercise that Vowing Sword was rather lackluster, but not useless; and Raging Folm was rather decent, but not broken (as people state a bit too frequently and unfoundedly). I’m curious to hear feedback to this so if there’s anything you guys either didn’t understand or you feel that I left out something important you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments below.

If you have a friend or know an online Vanguard fighter that could use the help this article provides, you can check the social buttons just below the article and send it to them. If you feel that you need another few examples to get the hang of this process, I’d be more than happy to append a few more to this article. Please note that really long and detailed replies should be done in the Forums.


  • SleepingDud says:

    So, does your opinion on on-hit LBs count The Sun?

  • Kieran Hunter says:

    So what would you say in regards to understanding the LJ Breakride, Chaos Breaker Dragon and Tetra drive in terms of understanding their balance? Are you ok with them existing with the costs that they have? I’m not entirely sure I can look at them and play against them without feeling some form of a knee jerk reaction in regards to just how game breaking they can seem to be at times.

    • Alice Alice says:

      Well follow the steps in the article and try to come to your own conclusions. We learn better by eureka moments than by reading, so I imagine if they’re not overpowered, it should cement in your mind after doing that.

    • Tempest13 says:

      I agree that you should test them first, Infinity zero is very powerful but only because it’s one of the only ways to consistently lock more than 1 card, making the deck BR dependant. CBD himself gives up cards to get lock and so does palladium so while you might be saving some shield by stopping their rear guards you also lose cards you need to devote to hand and field, then later you get to regain some of that for your next turn with his SB. The midgame is a delicate balance that can punish you if you’re careless about damage control between you and your opponent.

      That said I’ll be the first to say that the japanese results are not just hype and it’s a very real and scary deck, to the point where bushi could be warping the tournaments in response to it and the respective starvader cards that help it be so strong, but it has some balancing factors despite it’s high upside.

      • Alice Alice says:

        It’s kind of funny because in my testing it’s just doing what my trap-spam deck did in Megacolony…hahahaha. There’s already a deck like Link Joker that existed before it that could do the same thing. Only difference was it was mix-clan so it had minor problems with compatibility in some games and no 11k defense.

  • Tempest13 says:

    Well the real difference is that megacolony by itself is trash and starvader is cash. Like not fist full of franklins cash but scrooge mcduck swimming in gold cash. Archtype support, power lines, not on hit card advantage, and lock being almost strictly better than stunning pretty much sets LJ apart even if it’s doing the same thing. Also I’m interested in this mix clan deck, I’m assuming it’s a high pressure deck and uses cards like master fraude who utilize a seperate resource? Tell me more.

    • Alice Alice says:

      Uhh, before you go making such general and exaggerated statements, I highly encourage you to test the Megacolony version of that deck. Look for “Invincible Traps” on their clan page and go play 50 games with it against pre-BT11 decks.

  • Tempest13 says:

    Nothing exaggerated in saying that link joker is worlds above megacolony. Certainly megacolony is playable but that doesn’t really mean anything, some people still use polmeryzation in YGO, doesn’t mean the card isn’t garbage. I actually play and really enjoy the clan it’s not like I’m blowing steam out my butt here. I’ve played other invincible decks like kagero and nubatama so I know that the deck isn’t something to kid around with, imo you list runs a few too many enablers and not enough power cards, meaning against a non 10k vanguard there are alot of weak lines. The crux of the strategy is hitting a few important cards with instant stunners then pressuring with battler b. I really like battler b it is the only card I think megacolony really has going for it since it hits just the right power ratio for MCs effects. Repeatable CB light and effective at potential stalling or card advantage. It’s also more flexible than dreadmaster although dread is 7k and more card advantage doesn’t have instant “advantage”. At the same time I still prefer the strength of raw removal/discard or the endless pressure of an Eternal Flame every turn (combined with say Tri-Stinger Dragon). So thanks for showing me the list but I’m not terribly impressed.

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