Table of Contents
Introduction: A Brief Game Design Analysis of the Offensive Mechanics
Cardfight!! Vanguard, by its nature, is a quick game, especially when compared to other TCGs out there. The goal of the game is to push your opponent to six damage first. Typically, decks are usually limited to three attacks because of the base game design. You have three front-row circles which translate to three attacks; meanwhile, you have three back row circles, but they only serve to boost your attacks, unless of course, certain effects are activated that allows you to do otherwise. This three-attack base format, combined with the game’s inherent mechanic of losing at six damage means that not being able to guard three attacks means being halfway to losing the game. Every attack typically threatens damage for your opponent, which means that they will need to respond to it no matter what; every damage matters because you are always, at the minimum, six moves away from losing the game; there are no roundabout ways of winning the game, as the game’s nature of being a fast-paced game means that waiting for them to deck out is not an optimal option. There are also little to no viable effects that allow you to win the game in a different matter, so typically most decks will have to play aggressively if they actually want to receive reliable and safe results.
By nature, cards serve only two purposes: they are either there to stop attacks through guarding, or there to push for the game. When a player guards, however, they lose cards in hand without actually causing any disadvantage for the opponent. In fact, every guard lost in guarding is a net plus for the opponent because it allows them to damage them much easier and reduce their opponents’ resources by dropping cards that could have been used to pressure them. On the other hand, using cards to attack or to facilitate one is more advantageous because it causes two things to happen, all in the player’s favor: they cause their opponent to lose resources, and they bring the player closer to victory. In other words, using cards to attack your opponent is, objectively speaking, is usually more advantageous because it provides you with more advantages while causing your opponent to lose one. And in games where playstyles are limited to either giving you an advantage or causing your opponent disadvantages, it is clear that the offensive mechanics of vanguard favor those who play aggressively. After all, actively pushing for advantage does both of the game’s playstyles, while merely guarding attacks just causes disadvantages for the player (we have not even mentioned damage-locking). Simply put, the game rewards players who capitalize on this fast-paced-ness of the game; It is, put in the simplest manner, easy to win (and conversely easy to lose) in the game because of the limited amount of damage you can take before you lose.
Aggressiveness and Winning: Why CFV is skewed in favor of offensive decks
Unfortunately, due to the win condition in the game and its overall mechanics for responding to your opponent’s strategy, decks that play more aggressively are more handsomely rewarded in comparison to decks that prefer to weather down the opponent using a defensive and conservative playstyle. Guarding does not provide players with any advantage at all, but attacking does, with more payoffs. This in addition to how the game ends when you are hit six times, means that the game, unfortunately, favors playstyles that allow players to attack multiple times. Compared to playing defensively, an aggressive playstyle capitalizes on the game’s design of causing your opponent to lose cards. Because there are no benefits to guarding while there are a lot of benefits with attacking, multiple offensive moves mean that such benefits are reaped bountifully. Meanwhile, the poor soul on the receiving end of it continues to lose far more than what they recover, because they have gained no benefits from guarding, nor do they advance the game; they are simply there to attempt to slow or freeze the game.
This game design, while favorable for players who find joy in accelerating the game’s fast pace, even more, is unhealthy because of how it limits the potential options for building the deck, thus less diversity in the playstyles that can be seen in the meta. Observe the decks that are considered as tier 1 by other players: Shadow Paladin, Murakumo, Pale Moon, etc. What do these decks have in common? They allow their users to swing for high numbers over and over again. Some might say that this is because of the fact that Premium and V-Premium formats are well-developed and thus reward players who can combo efficiently, but observe Overdress, a format in its infancy (and thus not much power creep as of yet). Bruce and Bastion are meta decks that do two things: allow players to attack multiple times with high attacks. Thus, the argument that the game’s design favors aggressive decks becomes more evident, as a format whose purpose was to control and refresh the power creep still suffer from the same problems; what was supposed to allow the game to refresh itself and allow more playstyles still fell to the problem of having too many decks in the competitive scene that focuses on a more aggressive playstyle. Sad to say, the problem with aggressive decks is not a case of offensive clans being given overpowered support; it’s more of a case where playing defensively is not rewarded enough, as going with that playstyle grants little, if not negative effects to the player. However, that is not to say that the game is doomed to repeat its failures. Enter Seraph Snow, a deck that manages to top tournaments with aggressive decks, and a shining example of what must be done to allow for more diverse playstyles in the game.
Seraph Snow and Playing Defensively: How defensive decks should be designed
Seraph Snow, by nature, is a resource controlling defensive deck. It does not have the multi-attacks as Bruce has, nor does it have the absurd rearguard columns that Bastion can easily construct. Instead, it is a deck that slows down the game by controlling your opponent’s resources and throwing a wrench into their plans, which essentially means that it is a playstyle that reduces resources not by bombarding its opponents with attacks, but with controlling the game’s tempo. It does so by imprisoning the opponent’s rearguards and forcing them to either pay to bail them out or call other cards, which will inevitably lead to said cards being imprisoned again. Additionally, it penalizes opponents from either bailing their units out or playing recklessly; Cards such as Turquoise reduces the freed cards powers by 5000, and Bugomotor ensures that an opponent will have to either call a trigger unit out of the prison and lose cards or allow their opponent to activate their skills which relies on having imprisoned cards. This roundabout way of making the opponent lose resources allows the deck to slow down, or even stop its opponents in their tracks, thus allowing them to survive the game long enough to the point were trying to win becomes meaningless due to the staggering difference in resources. Put simply, while it does not remove the inherent problems of guarding being a net-negative mechanic, it does show that denying your opponent resources is a viable way to win in the game too, so long as it is well designed. When a deck is able to win by benefitting from the opponent playing too recklessly and being punished for it, it shows that making the changes needed in the game is really possible.
Thus, it is important that we analyze and discuss the mechanics that make Seraph Snow an amazing defensive deck, to understand what changes are needed to be done for more diversity in viable playstyles. Below are the points that make SS powerful, and how we might be able to translate it to other decks:
- Powerful, Emphasized Resource Control – Seraph Snow’s playstyle revolves around reducing and controlling the opponent’s resource and being rewarded for it. Because aggressive decks tend to require a fair number of resources to carry out their offensive, limiting what they can work it slows or outright stops them, which allows defensive decks to either push back on their own or win through a huge gap in resources. As counterblasts are quite limited and require a player to actually take damage to use one, further choking these resources can singlehandedly derail someone’s plans and allow slower decks to control the game to a pace they are more comfortable with. In other formats, a way to either punish the opponent by reducing their ways to pay costs or limiting or outright punishing the opponent’s multi-attacking options is valuable. More shields aren’t really an option, as guarding is still a net-negative option and aggressive decks in premium formats can easily just blow through it anyway and be actually rewarded for doing so. Thus, decks that do not reduce their opponent’s resources via aggressiveness should be given powerful options in whittling down their opponents. Forced discards and overall, just punishing the opponent for playing too happily is good, which brings us smoothly to our next point.
- Punishing Aggressiveness and Recklessness – One of the reasons why aggressive decks are running amok in the game is because they are not punished for throwing around multiple powerful attacks. Few clans, such as Kagero and Gear Chronicle, actually have counter options for opponents placing their key unit outside so flamboyantly. Thus, a way to punish an aggressive playstyle should be given to defensive decks and arguably what allows them to cement their identity as an equally threatening playstyle. A way to reduce attacks, force their opponent to pay steep costs to carry out their plans or sniping key units should be given to slower decks. This ensures the opponent is forced to play more deliberately or risk losing their key offensive units.
- Powerful Resource Engine – What’s a defensive deck without ways to protect itself? A good way to buff slower decks without nerfing offensive decks is to provide the former with more powerful ways of gathering or recycling their resources. Extra draw power, the ability to fetch detrimental cards, and the ability to guard more easily allow defensive decks to weather down more offensive decks, long enough for them to drag on the game and win by having more resources than their opponent. Seraph Snow, for example, has extra drive checks and the ability to draw cards, which itself is quite good as it allows them to either search out their key units more and tanks the already weakened attacks by the opponent. In essence, this engine serves to facilitate and reward players for playing slowly; defensive players survive long enough to create this huge gap in resources, and they benefit by waiting to build their resources more.
- Slow and Steady, Yet Meaningful Attacks – Aggressive decks have arguably and ironically better defensive options than defensive decks themselves (which is a topic for another article), so defensive decks should be given options to slowly back their opponent against a corner. Attacks with guard restricts more power, and perhaps force opponents to lose cards when they do not intend to allow defensive players to push the game slowly and deliberately to a close. Even with a good amount of resources, aggressive players may find this meaningless if their opponent is still able to threaten a win by having attacks that take a substantial amount of attack to guard, all without having to worry about them going guns blazing on them. Seraph Snow, for example, has rearguards that can hit for 23k reliably and 38k, but they do not have multiple attacks. However, because they do not have multiple attacks, this itself is balanced as they are still able to capitalize on the game’s slowed tempo and push their opponent to lose. They win through these attacks because they either weathered down the opponent’s weakened offensive and survived long enough through attrition, or they capitalize on their opponent recklessly throwing cards around.
In other words, defensive decks need a buff to truly establish their identity as a “slow and deliberate playstyle”. Without providing such buffs, then the game is doomed to favor aggressive decks, which some players may find too repetitive and boring.
Conclusion: What now?
While the game’s design favors aggressiveness, it is still possible to fix this problem by providing defensive decks the buffs they need. Because vanguard is a very resource-heavy game, every card matters as each of them could be used to push the game to a win. Thus, slower decks should be given the right to capitalize on this resource-heaviness and be given options that allow them to reduce their opponent’s resources in their own way and control the tempo of the game. Aggressive decks are admittedly fun and thus do not warrant a nerf; the problem lies with slower decks not being given enough options to benefit from their slower playstyle. Thus, CFV may have some flaws to its mechanics, but it is possible to patch this up by buffing decks that deserve it. After all, card effects take higher priority to the game’s mechanics itself, so why not go all the way?
Thank you for reading my article and I wish you all the most thrilling and happiest of cardfights!