10 Vanguard Things I Got Wrong as a Newb

Oh, and this is going to be embarrassing. But I think that we learn a lot more from failure than from success. This is generally because things are far easier to criticize—I can more readily tell you the likely reasons something failed than for its success. It’s a tool of humanity that makes evidence-based science work so well for us in producing medicine, technology, building bridges, learning about the universe, and exploring where we came from. Particularly when you’re new to a field, you tend to be more wrong. It’s not necessarily because your intuition leads you to worse hypotheses (it does), but because you’re more likely to actually tout things you think as correct when you don’t know all the nuances yet.

This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect where confidence is inversely proportional to knowledge. Of course, this speaks to confidence/knowledge of an entire subject, not really of one particular item (a scientist isn’t unsure of gravity just because he’s tested it a lot, that would make no sense. More like a scientist knows there’s a lot we’ve yet to understand about gravity). When you’re new to something, it’s really hard to see how deep it might go or all the nuances and caveats that lie ahead of you. This is why confidence tricks clearly don’t work against someone in a field of expertise. It’d be pretty hard to con a real surgeon unless you actually went and learned enough real knowledge about surgery beforehand—at that point, just go to medical school.

What I want to present is a list of my own personal failures so that we might all learn from them. I’m not talking about little petty garbage or even things that were just bad hypotheses—I mean actual things I really allowed myself to form an opinion or stance on, and that I may have actually stated to others without knowing for sure. And these will all be about Vanguard. Don’t do what I did in these scenarios, use your brain!


10 – I thought on-hit units were useless

Why I thought this: On-hit units had a certain mind-trap built right into them. They convince the player that the reason she runs them is to actually get the skill itself. Naturally, I looked at a card skill, thought “I want to actually get this skill” and then when I saw such a ghastly prohibition to getting it, I was alarmed and called it bad.

Why it’s wrong:  It’s a pretty weird concept that you’d run a unit for the threat of its skill rather than its actual execution. But in fact, the threat of a skill is pretty bad as well. Not only does it still benefit you by requiring more guarding, but it causes misplaying in less skilled opponents. When combined with multiple other attacks of an on-hit variety (especially vanguards), it becomes easy to corner the opponent into letting something hit, thereby giving you an effect anyway. This was actually the entire point behind the Gold Rutile deck (and a few others). This led to the discovery of a concrete concept of Pressure. It had always existed as a kind of undefined colloquial term, but you get a much better idea of what’s really going on when you challenge your preconceptions and really explore concepts.

A single on-hit unit on your field was the fallacy here. It assumed that you’d never combine this condition with others to produce an outcome greater than the sum of its parts. A major component in missing this key concept was lacking a concept of what units to properly guard. In the Game Theory article, I freely explored this idea of guarding and showed that during mid-game, Vanguards should be left the hell alone since they just drain resources for no reason when you guard them. The obvious counter to this is using lots of on-hit units so they can’t drop the bare minimum on your rear-guards anymore.

The Lesson: In fact, a lot of people thought this, but that doesn’t excuse it. The lesson here is that following the cultural zeitgeist and allowing yourself to be swept up in what everyone else thinks is not a good way to go. But the fact that people rarely ever challenged this notion made it difficult to challenge as an individual. Do not get caught up in group think. Do not put your trust in a larger community or “safety in numbers” to keep you from thinking things that are wrong. It’s your responsibility to monitor what you believe with evidence and to challenge the norms when they don’t have substantiation.


9 – I thought Vanguard was balanced

Why I thought this: Because it’s kind of true within certain parameters. When considering Vanguard for a test of balance, if you look at only the English game at only sets 1, 2, and 6, you’ll see that they are relatively balanced. In fact, English remained largely balanced until February 2013 when Awakening of Twin Blades was released.

Why it’s wrong:  It completely failed to take the original Japanese game into context. The conclusion that I so-long derived from the notion of a balanced Vanguard was that Bushiroad had designed it that way. Wrong-o. At some point, I realized that the Japanese game, with its release order of 1, 2, 3…, you know—the actual order—was not at all balanced. In both formats, Royal Paladins were at a massive advantage for the first two sets, largely due to getting far better support. It could be argued that for Set 1, Kagero was their equal but not Novas or Oracles who didn’t really become “complete” until Set 2. By Set 2, Royal Paladin had Soul Saver Dragon, which was pretty devastating at the time. But it was specifically in the Japanese format that Set 3 had the impact that it did. With Palamedes and tons of stupid Royal (and Kagero) support, the game was thrown lopsided in a big way.

Kagero had access to 12 critical triggers by then and some scary units. Royal Paladins were even more consistent, despite having their cute cyber-doggy restricted. The other clans? Only Novas and Oracles could even dare compete. In fact, Oracle Think Tank went to a ridiculous height with the inclusion of Tsukuyomi who not only gets easy advantage but can loop the deck for a staggering game-ender. Spike Brothers, Tachikaze, Pale Moon, Dark Irregulars, and many more were just living in absolute squalor next to these titans. Set 4 did no one any favors except Nova Grappler.

The English release order is what created this illusion. By the time I got into the game, Set 2 had just been released and Set 6 was already announced. This means I didn’t nearly have enough time to figure out who was the top deck before we got Set 6. Once it hit, Granblue, two new clans, and Spike Brothers (EB03) were added to the list of clans that could compete. It was a much more balanced release order and prepared everyone for the devastation of Set 3. Once that set finally did hit, there wasn’t much of an impact. Tsukuyomi still did predictably over-well, but Royal Paladin was no longer unequivocally the best. Sets 7 and 4 even made their way in with much support for older clans like Dark Irregulars and Pale Moon which had a rocky start in Japan but a relatively smooth one in English.

The Lesson: I think I’ve made my point on how wrong this was, even if I haven’t listed all of the reasons why. Vanguard was never designed to be balanced from the start and it was a happy coincidence that allowed English players to sit within the tepid waters of a relatively balanced game for so long. The lesson is never to look at things through such narrow a lens. I also learned that a balanced game is definitely worth fighting to keep, even if you don’t win. It’s such a magically beautiful and satisfying thing that it’s staggering to learn that there are people who not only won’t fight to keep it but dis-appreciate it entirely. I didn’t realize Vanguard was in danger in time. Production cycles are long and very futuristic, so had I noticed from the outset, maybe I could’ve done more to change it, maybe. It would’ve been worth the effort.


8 – I thought old decks would remain relevant

Why I thought this: Wishful thinking, truly. Going back to how I thought Vanguard was balanced, I started ascribing all these non-existent good qualities to the publishers in an effort to “hope good things into existence”. Unconsciously, of course. I don’t believe in that crap. Vanguard looked balanced enough and it was indeed true that you could keep the massive majority of your deck the same for the first six English sets and do relatively well. You really only needed to change a far-few units that were unilaterally better.

Why it’s wrong:  How, out of all of the things I kept from my old TCG career, the idea that decks constantly change wasn’t one of them, I’ll never know. This is an obvious fact about any TCG if you play it for long enough. A terrible, rotten fact that drives players mad and causes emotional drama. It’s absolutely no excuse on the side of the publishers just because it’s now expected. It was pretty hard to leave Konami’s game for so long (for doing exactly this thing) because there really weren’t any good alternatives until Vanguard. So when Vanguard starts screwing players by forcing power creep, it leads to a feeling of betrayal.

Power creep is actually not a necessary component of TCGs. A company does not actually have to force you to replace everything you own just to make a profit. After having researched the TCG market for quite some time myself, and after having seen models that successfully get repeat business without ever resorting to this underhanded tactic—it makes me wonder exactly what’s going on that causes players to fall into this trap and support bad business models.

The Lesson: Never assume a company is your friend. Only highly transparent companies with a long track-record of excellent personal customer service can be called even close to “friend”. A company is something you are in active competition with. You want to retain as much of your capital as possible while getting as much enjoyment as possible. The company wants to gain as much of your capital as possible, with as little work as possible. When these are the motives (and they almost always are), you create an impasse where the balance is only struck by both parties being shrewd.

But at the same time, it shows that you do not always need to look for the TCG model when playing a game. There are plenty of games out there (Fantasy Flight’s “Living Card Game” model comes to mind) that don’t even have rarity or random packs to screw you out of your money with a cheap paper roulette. I’ve never been in favor of supporting the TCG model and actively try to avoid purchasing packs when possible. There’s a whole gigantic percent of traditional gamers out there who feel the same way and look at TCGs as “kiddie” (even Magic the Gathering) because of this exploitative model. They realize that it’s eventually just draining their money to constantly keep up with set rotation, power creep, exploitative banlists, or what-have-you. Call of Cthulhu didn’t need to resort to tomfoolery like Bushiroad’s rampant power creep as of late just to keep sales up (and Fantasy Flight’s games are being bought so quickly, they often can’t restock). Maybe the lesson isn’t “companies aren’t your friend” so much as “beware the TCG model—it will screw you”.


7 – I thought resources had to be exclusive

Why I thought this: When I say resources, I mean the concept of resources in Vanguard—counter and soul blasts. I used to think you always had to build your deck by looking at the total amount of resources you’d be able to spend and taking some percentage of that (the expected spent amount, using the expected value formula) to be correct. It seemed somehow logical, I guess, that you wouldn’t have excess units taking up the same costs as others because…I don’t know, the world would explode? As well, I also thought you had to use up every resource or you were being unoptimal. This may have been true at one time, but not anymore.

Why it’s wrong:  Resources can indeed be set up that way for the maximum efficiency. But what is that “efficiency” in this context? Really, it just comes down to card selection within your deck. If it weren’t card selection, then it would be stupid to say that you shouldn’t have redundant costs over your expected costs. Indeed, Vanguard is less forgiving with bad card choices in your deck than ever before, but it’s not always about choosing exactly enough of a resource to use. There might just not be enough good non-counterblast grade 2s, for example. Narukami epitomizes this. Vermillion fights tooth and nail with Deathscythe for counterblast use. While it’s true that Vermillion is much more efficient (3 for +2) than Deathscythe (2 for +1), it’s also true that you can’t use Vermillion twice in the average game. It’s also true that you’re not guaranteed to ride Vermillion to take use of his skill. Which means you kind of want a back up.

The concept of having a backup should have occurred to me but I’m apparently an idiot. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think you could have these nice neat optional effects that come from the same cost pool, just that I didn’t view them as optional. I always said it was clinically retarded not to run 4 Berserk Dragon in Kagero—and that’s true, but Kagero didn’t have a lot of counterblast competition, so that was easy to say. Narukami has a ton of competition and it was eventually this clan that led me to realize that having a “less optimal” option to kill earlier can actually be just as optimal in the long run or possibly better. This is because of Subgames—the concept that vanguard is not one game but three, consiting of an Eary, Middle, and Late subgame each.

Because of this fact, it turns out that an early kill is “worth” more than a later kill. Because that unit that you got rid of would have had more time to make you guard, and now it has less time. Only if it’s replaced with an equal unit right away can it be somehow “lesser” but in that case, you’re still ahead since that would’ve been two good units staring you down. This concept of resources really relies on the timing and circumstances, which are further broken down into Subgames and card quality.

The Lesson: Don’t assert things without evidence. It’s really that simple. I kept trying to overcomplicated it because there’s just no way it could be as simple as “having options is good”. Having those redundant cost options is not actually good for every deck (some decks would do worse because you’re using that room for non-cost cards that it prefers to also have, such as Death Army Lady over Kirara), but there are decks that want it and you shouldn’t make broad, sweeping, generalized statements without some hard evidence backing it up. Any evidence that I could’ve given would have been cherry picked from only the clans/decks that matched my per-conceived notions. Don’t do this. You’ll be wrong and embarrassed.


6 – I didn’t think triggers had a clear hierarchy

Why I thought this: What I mean by this is that some triggers weren’t better than others. The title there is pretty poorly worded since it softly implies that I was just ignorant of an existing fact. In actuality, it’s more accurate to say that I was adamant all triggers were balanced (even heals, since they’re limit four). I thought this because I thought Bushiroad had balanced this game and also because I was largely ignorant but zealous about “proving” this game was some magical exception to the vast majority of imbalanced TCGs.

Why it’s wrong:  I haven’t really talked about this directly at all. Partly because once I realized it, I didn’t feel like starting up that controversy (lots of people think the way I did) and partly because I just thought it was self-evident by that point. Well it’s apparently not self-evident if I, and many thousands of fellow Vanguard players, can’t just realize this immediately. It’s not true the Critical, Stand, Draw, and Heal triggers are perfectly balanced against each other. Indeed there’s quite a disparity between each.

In some of my comments, I know that I’ve eventually addressed the issue that Draw triggers tend to be largely the most inferior trigger. This wasn’t hard to notice after almost a year of careful match observation. Draws often caused no benefit at all when activated, unless it was during the damage step. But conceptually, this is easy to show as well. Consider that all of the other triggers in the game have 10000 shield, or 2 stages. Draw triggers only have 5000 shield, or 1 stage. When you check a Draw trigger, you should find the average shield it adds to your hand since that gives you your expected value of shielding. Turns out, for a normal deck, your total shielding with a Draw Trigger’s check is 2 stages. Why is this bad? Because Draws therefore give you 2/3 components of all other triggers: +1 stage power, +2 stages shield. Every other trigger gives you some other capability as well. I won’t go into the rest of the niggling irrelevant details like how drawing a card can give you access to new options (I address this later in another point) or how damage checking them gives you some free advantage. The problem is that damage checking is 1/3 expected trigger checks per round. So only an expected 33.333% of your Draw triggers will hit the damage zone, and if you only run four, that’s around 1 per game assuming you went through your entire deck. I’ve shown before that you go through 2 copies of a card you have 4-of on average in a given game. So at 2 copies, you’re not even guaranteed 1 free card from the damage zone! Just a really unoptimal trigger.

Stands have been long-suspected by the community of being inferior to at least critical triggers. This is because damage appears to be “worth” more than cards and stands don’t guarantee that you’ll get more damage—they give your opponent the option. Yep, this is totally true. Stands, just to be equal to a critical, would actually have to stand a unit that is already 2 stages and make it 3 stages. The reason is because one damage is worth approximately 1.5 cards. Stands also tend to fizzle in early game and sometimes in the start of midgame, which means 1 stand fizzles per game on average, thus reducing your effective trigger count. They do allow you to do some other situational things (attack with a vanguard last) but on average, stands do strictly worse than their twin. The problem is that Bushiroad didn’t realize an extra damage is worth more than cards (which now that I think about it, is fucking stupid. And I was stupid too!). I won’t get really detailed with this here, because people really love to argue weak points that don’t even register on the radar, but stands will usually be outperformed by criticals on average. Even if you wanted to stand units to get “card advantage”, the third stage from a critical does exactly the same thing. They only start gaining more advantage in the form of guard quality as the game goes to Late. The one exception where they’re possibly good is when you can stand a unit your opponent can’t block and it’s an on-hit with a good skill. These instances are rare (in all but a few builds) and exceedingly situational.

Heal triggers are almost universally seen as “broken” and freaking ridiculous. In truth, they’re pretty great but mostly just annoying. Healing a damage is indeed worth the same as 1.5 cards saved and also you still gain the power on an attacking unit (or defending vanguard), plus they have the added bonus of working during the damage check. However, as we saw with draws, this really only means 2/4 Heals even show up in the game (not even that they get checked!) and that in a normal deck which draws, twin drives, and damages, you have about a 3/4 chance to trigger check it, and a 1/3 chance of trigger checking it in the damage. We’ve seen already that this means “don’t count on it” for your damaged heal. Especially when you have to be the same or lower damage than the opponent at the exact same moment you check it. However, their offensive drive check capabilities at least put them above stands by being a “conditional crit” if you will. Doing the job of a crit in reverse, conditional or not, is at least worth being more useful than a stand and having the extra damage check opportunity isn’t exactly hurting it.

Critical Triggers are the mack-daddy of Vanguard. I wish I could say otherwise, but I’ve clearly noticed a significant disparity both in testing and in concept. This does not mean that a 16 critical deck will win over that same deck with 12 criticals and 4 heals. I do not yet know if there’s some subtle interplay there that makes the 16 potentially less optimal than the 12/4 (and given the humility this article is trying to convey, I shall not fall into that trap again), but I can at least tell you that a 12/4 lineup of criticals-to-heals is by far the most devastating in vanguard. It all comes down to that ridiculous 1.5 cards phenomenon that damage entail. The truth is, this isn’t actually the average as I usually give. It’s the minimum. It’s possible for a damage to be worth 2 or more cards, in fact. I give the lowest number as a rule because it’s all I need to prove that damage is significantly outweighed over cards.

In fact, during the time of BT06EN, I was using Granblue because it was the only clan with 12 criticals (which is why you guys had to wait so long for my Granblue article)—and it also helped that Granblue was incredibly consistent with its field. I did at least recognize early on that 12 of these had a surprise factor. Once the surprise is over, however, it’s still just a devastatingly bullshit lineup. It makes ending the game at 3 damage very common and getting over heals is a breeze. The tempo of the opponent increases so hard that they barely have any time to enact any mid-game gambits and you essentially steamroll right past it. But it didn’t become conceptually clear to me that criticals were the “best” trigger until I started a secretive members-only analysis series called Know Your Matchups. This is where I started analyzing decks and individual cards with the length of whole articles; and in the “counters” section, I would almost always, in every single case, find that the counter to everything was 12 crit lineups (even other 12-crits!), among other things (CEO’s Divination and On-Hit vanguards were common). This surfaced so staggeringly often in testing and concept that I couldn’t ignore it and I realized I was wrong—triggers do have a hierarchy.

The Lesson: Holy crap, what a long explanation. The lesson here is: write shorter explanations. Er, the real lesson here is: preconceived notions are terrible. Biases, preconceived notions, unwavering belief, non-evidential thinking, emotional opinions—these things are all worse than Hitler. Baby-eating, pacificst-bombing, Saturday morning cartoon villains that leave Legos lying around on the floor for you to step on. Yes, worse than stepping on Legos. So don’t do it! It’ll ruin your perception of reality and make you bad at Vanguard.


5 – I thought tournaments were representative of skill

Why I thought this: Because I came from a game where the top players consistently continued to top, I assumed that tournaments must necessarily be indicative of skill. Yu-Gi-Oh’s Duelmonsters is a game that’s been around for over a decade now and its top players are very, very top. It’s extremely rare in older games to see some young upstart come along and topple Worlds or Nationals. Naturally, I took this to mean that tournaments must either be the cause or data of skill.

Why it’s wrong:  Ha-ha-ha-ha, holy shit. Oh Odin, where do I even begin with this complete bullshit? Well, howabout that fact that even if this was true, Vanguard isn’t anything like those games. Its tournament type shouldn’t even be elimination bracket. Not only that, the thing that you might even say makes YGO and MTG tournaments indicative of skill on average is the fact that they’ve been running for so long that skills have been refined. Good golly, not only is every single comparison and assumption about this just utterly fucking wrong—it’s a fallacy.

Fallacy of induction, in fact. Inductive reasoning is where you explore a possibility by looking at incomplete information. An inductive fallacy, therefore, is where you take a possibility as fact which is not only stupid, it’s willfully stupid. Yeah, there’s a possibility that an invisible and unmeasurable pink unicorn is orbiting the earth that we’ll never detect. We have no reason to believe this is a fact because holy shit what kind of dumb idiot does this? Some smart logicians worked out the law of parsimony (you may know it as Occam’s Razor) which helps you rank your possibilities in order of simplicity so that you can test them in an optimal fashion. Scientists wouldn’t do this if it was time-wasting nonsense, so it’s pretty clear (from concept and evidence) that parsimony does indeed give us the correct answers more quickly than any other method, especially starting with total lunacy like invisible, pink, orbital unicorns.

But why are tournaments an inductive fallacy? In a scientific experiment, you actually have to control for several variables (that you also have to identify). If you don’t control for these variables, your data inevitably become corrupted and unreliable. In Vanguard, you have to control for the skill of both players, the strength of both decks, and the chance factor, at the very least. Tournaments control for…drumroll…zero of these. If you look at the top two winners of a tournament, you might be tempted to say “these guys won because of skill” or “their decks are the best”, but you’d most likely be wrong, and even if you were right, you’d only be right by coincidence, not because you have evidence to show it.

Tournaments are generally 5-10 rounds (let’s call it 7), for the winner. Remember that in elimination brackets, people get eliminated. This means that strong players can be eliminated purely by chance or early matchups with equally strong players, thus giving more weak players a free ride on average. It also means the tournament can never be representative of the sample of all the players. Only the players that didn’t lose more times than the elimination (usually 2 strikes, you’re out for Vanguard). So even in a tournament of 200 people, only a small handful of those people make it to even the second-to-last round, which means your data is all wonky and bullshit. Not only that—even 10 rounds isn’t enough for a sample size that rules out chance having a major impact on the game. How many times have you seen a kid at locals get his Spectral Duke chain off (assuming he’s not cheating) and it was above the 1/3 expectation? That doesn’t mean you actually get the chain more than the 1/3 average, just that this kid you know is a statistical anomaly and chance is factoring much higher than it should in his games. A much longer tournament of, say, 20 rounds of Swiss (same length of time as 10 Elimination), would actually smooth out his bullshit a lot more. Not only that, everyone could stay to the end so your data is more complete. But I want to be clear: even 20 rounds is not sufficient to control for chance.

That’s just chance. That doesn’t even begin to control for deck strength, which you have to do if you want to figure out who is the most skilled. I won’t talk about the ways this does or does not control for decks because that would take too long and I think I’ve sufficiently proven the whole case with the single point of chance. No tournament is likely to be indicative of jack squat other than if you polled everyone to find out if they had fun and how much. That’s because tournaments are for fun. The only kinds of games with tournaments that show real skill are games that include no chance or deviation on either side—like chess.

The Lesson: Be wary the ways your brain will trick you and don’t fall into the mind-trap of induction. It’s a useful tool when it’s all you have but it’s not all you have. Skill can be determined by playing an assload of games with standardized decks. Deck strength can be determined by playing an assload of games with standardized skill. Any other answer is probably wrong—especially tournaments. Keep this in mind the next time you attempt to cite a tournament report for a point of strength or skill.



4 – I thought ‘Magic Numbers’ were bullshit

Why I thought this: This is particularly embarrassing. Indeed, when I was brand new to Vanguard, I thought this whole ‘Magic Number’ hullabaloo was garbage. I freely admit this was both stupid and largely caused by the really dumb name it was given. But it’s really more than that. I just didn’t want it to be true because it was really inelegant. You’re telling me I have to memorize a chart of number pairings to be optimal at this game? Fuck that, I’ll just take my chances guessing randomly.

Why it’s wrong:  Oh I certainly wasn’t wrong about it being inelegant but it was monumental stupidity to ignore the impact of these numbers. The problem was that it was so hard to get over how wonky and lopsided this methodology was (and the dumb name…seriously). However, my willingness to admit I was wrong came in the form of actually investigating this phenomena, eventually. I found that it was actually less about the numbers themselves and more about the fact that dealing six damage meant depleting the hand.

Here’s how this goes down, start at the end and work backward: You need six damage to win. How do you get six damage? You go through the gigantic shield-farm that is their hand. How do you deplete the shield-farm? You make attacks that are just optimal enough to kiss the edge of the next shield amount they have to drop. This is where I hit on the real behind-the-scenes action here. Shields were measured in 5000 intervals. Because of this, you could easily chunk shields into respective “stages” where a stage was simply a 5000 chunk. Now it was less about memorizing these numbers, doing all this boring arithmetic, and announcing your dumb 20,000 power attack which had the same guard-drop as a 16,000 power attack and everything in-between for most vanguards.

This was, I felt, far more elegant and indeed a large majority of the Vanguard player-base seems to think it’s useful enough that they think in terms of “stages” as well.

The Lesson: Just because something is ugly or you “don’t like it”, does not mean it’s actually wrong. Though, it may be short sighted, you’ll live in ignorance if you aren’t willing to investigate. A skeptic is not someone who rejects everything outright. A skeptic is literally someone who investigates further. If I wasn’t willing to be wrong about my notions, then I wouldn’t have investigated and not only would I have been willfully ignorant and wrong but I would’ve never found a deeper meaning that I could derive something more palatable from. I would say that the absolute best lesson from this is to stop reacting emotionally to the opinions of others. Stop and analyze them rationally first.


3 – I thought you only need 2-3 Perfect Guards

Why I thought this: Seems odd to think that I ever thought this. Indeed, before I went on a virtual crusade against this dumb sentiment, I thought that you only really needed two or three. I leaned three, but I accepted cop-out excuses from people for running two like “it’s just personal preference” (just so you know, that’s not a thing). I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t yet grasp the concept of Field Scaling in relation to those evil ‘Magic Numbers’ I hated. So it caused me to unconditionally view 6000 power boosters as inferior because I lacked a contextual understanding of column stages. As if they somehow diminished the possibility of delicious power. They didn’t actually do this.

Why it’s wrong:  My best argument comes in video form (with the voice of TehNACHO), and my second-best argument is the Perfect Guard subheading of the Deck Construction article. The strongest base of the argument states that the frequency of any 4-copy card per game is approximately 2 copies. With the expected value being one on Turn 3 and another on Turn 7. Because vanguard rarely lasts Turn 9 (and because of a little devil called Standard Deviation), you’re very unlikely to see more than one copy if you run 3, and 0-1 if you run 2. It’s pretty damning for the arguments of three and two.

I’ve gone in pretty deep into this argument ever since I made the flub, so the rest of them are also addressed in both the video and the article. With the main supports being that yes, you do indeed need both copies you would get with a 4-copy-run, since game ending plays are extremely common now. And that no, they do not cause you to “lose out” on anything. Perfect Guards are those really powerful staples you should max in your deck—the ones every TCG has.

The Lesson: While you can’t port over all your ideas and skills from previous TCGs, some ideas do remain. Especially in deckbuilding to maximize your chances of winning or the consistency that you execute main strategies. Generally, as a rule you want to run as many copies of something in your deck as possible. It’s really rare that you want to run less, than it is to be forced to (usually, you use 11 grade 2s which means 4/4/3 copies, so one of those is not max by force rather than by choice). And just because you don’t appreciate 4 staples being taken up in your decklist does not mean you can wish them away. Yes, they’re expensive, yes they’re forced, but you know what? They get the damn job done to save your life.


2 – I thought any card advantage is good advantage

Why I thought this: Naturally. Another example of TCG bias. If you come from Magic or Yugioh (or any other TCG for that matter), you’ve likely been conditioned to think that any free card is a truly free card; and that it’s a good thing. It might not necessarily be the case.

Why it’s wrong:  This became so immediately obvious when Gold Paladin were released that it’s not even funny. Vanguard is far different from other TCGs. Advantage does indeed exist, but the quality is far more important now since guarding and field scalability are two major factors that determine wins. Because of this, the same card that you guard with might either save you or kill you depending on how good or bad the opponent’s formations are. And the same unknown card an opponent has might save or not-save her depending on if it has enough guarding quality.

In reality, this has always been part of TCGs, just to a lesser extent in more “vulgar” games like Yugioh where the advantage often times is indeed very in-your-face. Vanguard often has subtle advantage and overt-vulgar advantage typically comes with strings attached. Often poor quality. Gold Paladins exemplify this to the extreme—topcalling units should be the TCG equivalent of playing a coinflip deck (read: no pro TCG player does this), but somehow almost every person coming from Yugioh thought that Gold Paladin were amazing because “Ohemgee—free cards!”. The problem is they weren’t free. On average, you make terrible ass columns (as I’ve explained ad nauseum by now), and this means you have to replace them either right away or eventually. Replacing them gives a net +0. If you keep them, you lose net pressure and start falling behind. Either way, you cannot do strictly better on average than a deck which does not randomly call.  There was a lot of additional impact bias towards statistical anomalies that caused people to think this was good, but on the whole, it was a lack of understanding about Card Advantage quality and Vanguard’s core mechanics.

Those resources you were using (counterblasts, etc) to get those cards that didn’t give you any true advantage were being massively wasted. Where you could’ve been using it on, say, Garmore and Dindrane for truly good quality advantage. In addition, the card slots that those top-callers were taking up in your deck were being wasted by the cards you didn’t run—formally known as “opportunity cost” in economics. It’s the cost you pay for doing what you did; represented by not getting to play your second-choice. Always evaluate your options in this way.

The Lesson: You have to think about your opportunity cost and you can’t just treat Vanguard as a spam-and-slam game. Not every TCG concept will transfer over when you see a new game to play. Indeed, you should assume that little-to-none of them actually do and test to see if you’re wrong about it. If a deck or whole clan can’t offer you good advantage, only wasteful junk, you might consider changing.



1 – I thought Cross-Rides were fine

Why I thought this: What!? If any of you out there know me by now, this came as a huge shock to you. Let me do you one crazier: I didn’t actually think they were fine. I lied on purpose so you wouldn’t shit your pants. In actuality, I thought they were terrible suck-ass cards. Why? Because other TCGs, of course. Big, anime, plot-plays that seem all devastating in the show are typically terrible cards that are too conditional to ever pay off in the real game. I was taught this by Yugioh, naturally. This is actually so embarrassing because real life people heard me say that they were terrible conditional garbage. Specifically speaking of The End and Majesty: that you’d almost never get both Blasters in the soul and that Persona Blast is totally unreliable.

Why it’s wrong:  Where the hell did my uppity dumb ass even get off saying such baseless things? Again, not using my brain just like anyone else who’s ever said this. To be fair to me, I was talking about their skills (okay that doesn’t help at all) and not the defense. I didn’t have any concept back then of how defense changes the entire core mechanics of vanguard to such a ridiculous degree that it offsets literally everything.

In a massive ironic twist of doublethink, I did actually argue that 11000 power vanguards were better strictly for their defense—which is often true. It just didn’t occur to me that I was overlooking one simple fact: probability. I never bothered to actually calculate the chance of getting that unit in the soul for retarded defense, and didn’t even have a concept of what the defense would do. You know how early man is often speculated to have started counting “1, 2, many”, then “1, 2, 3, many” and so on? That’s really what it was like here. I didn’t have any concept of defense above 11k because it was just “many”. It seemed maybe like it would be winmore or inconsequential.

Holy Reginleif, no. Since I now actually have some count of its chances and the fact that it has too high of an expected value of the game, I’ve realized all of the really stupid implications of 12k and 13k defenses without legitimate costs. Essentially, it means every deck has to plan for them. Back when I first realized this, no deck could really tackle the issue except also-crossride decks. So you had this huge problem where the decks that could consistently “counter” this play were the same decks that could make it. I predicted that the game would have to print more units that just gain power regardless of the clan’s winning image just to keep up. It would become a stupid arms race. Oh look, that’s exactly what happened. Now we have tons of these grade 1 and 2 units that do nothing but gain vanilla power. Not even to a point of hitting normal decks for 3 stages; only for a point of hitting crossrides for the long-established 2 stages per column.

In addition to totally vanilla-ing up your deck, it also made an entire core concept—the concept of the 3-stage rear-guard, practically extinct. Getting 23k on a rear-guard without minusing? Next to impossible. And most of the units that can do it, also hit 4 stages which means it still unfairly impacts something that otherwise wouldn’t normally be impacted. I won’t go more into this because these two factors are egregious enough. They can have their unconditional fallback 11k defense and their extra-strong abilities, that’s not part of the point. The defense itself actually ruined the structure of the game to the point where entire clans lost their individuality. If you want to do something unique, you have to use your vanguard and pretty much only that. They also make almost all starting vanguards an automatic minus, since it’s really rare to have a 13k attacker you can pair with the strongest (5k) starters as boosters, which gives them yet more unfair advantages.

I would’ve accepted this if they just gave one to a single appropriate clan like Dimension Police—where their whole point is a strong center line. Even then, it could be dubious if the one clan started ruling all. But not every clan should have this. And not every deck needs to be forced to run all these 12k and 10k and 8k vanilla units just to keep up with the staggering defense you see. It impacts those decks whether someone physically performs the Crossride or not since they get less choice in what they run. And you thought +1 forced Perfect Guard was bad.

The Lesson: This was a huge example of failure to analyze. Analyze cards properly, not by your emotions or pre-conceptions. Don’t let what the majority of the people think dictate your beliefs. Don’t judge things by a lack of real evidence. When you think about things conceptually, you need to give real hard evidence for them. Learn from your mistakes and mine!


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Alice is the webmaster of VMundi, author, editor, mathematician, and autodidact. She has over 6 years of publishing experience writing articles for various self-run sites. Her interests include game design, economics, Game Theory, graphical design, quantum mechanics and mathematics.

  • reply Anon ,

    it sucks that i barely found this blog. soo many golden nuggets. Is all this vanguard info still useful in this present time?

    • reply Anonymous ,

      No. Back then, they were very good and true. But today, some of the concepts are incorrect, or not exactly the best.

      • Alice

        Alice ,

        Today, Vanguard is grade 1 rush and that’s it. That, and an incredibly toxic and abusive community suckling the teet of an exploitative company.

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