The Art of Defense – Part I – Force

Written by AlphonZeus

Welcome to the Art of Defense! This article is to help teach you about the art and skill of defending attacks from your opponent in Cardfight!! Vanguard. This series is aimed towards both those beginning Cardfight!! Vanguard or for those veterans that want a refresher. This will be a multi-part series where you can break down defending from each type of gift: Force, Protect, and Accel. For this post, we will focus on Force clans.

You can make the best plays on your turn until you have to say, “Pass turn.” But from then on, the game is entirely different: you are now in a situation where you have to look at the cards in your hand, look at your damage, and ask yourself the following: (1) How much damage can I take this turn? (2) What cards am I willing to lose to guard? (3) How much card advantage will my opponent gain? These questions form a base to prepare yourself for an efficient turn of defending. These lead to even more specific questions such as (A) How many triggers are out of the deck? (B) What will my board look like after living through this next turn? (C) Are there any on-hits that are live?

Force clans all have one similar theme in mind: big numbers. Here, you will learn how to efficiently defend against these types of decks that use both Force markers. This article will first discuss defending against clans that tend to use Force Marker I (“Force I”), and later, Force Marker II (“Force II”), along with whether the different marker changes the answers to the above questions.

First, let’s have a reminder of every force clan in Vanguard so far. Each of these clans have been known for back-breaking swings and embody the mentality of “PG or die.” I've categorized the clans in parentheses -- but more on that later on. The Force clans in Vanguard consist of:

1. Royal Paladin (slow builder)

2. Kagero (hybrid)

3. Spike Brothers (hybrid)

4. Dimension Police (hybrid)

5. Neo Nectar (big swinger)

6. Genesis (slow builder)

7. Gear Chronicle (slow builder)

8. Shadow Paladins (big swinger)

9. Link Joker (big swinger)

10. Bermuda Triangle (big swinger)

Defending against Force Clans Using Force I

Force I contributes a solid, consistent 10k boost to any circle on your field. Vanguards like Super Dimensional Robo, Daiyusha and White Lily Musketeer, Cecilia contribute more 10k boosts to themselves or their field, creating an even bigger threat. Defending against these mind-numbingly large attacks without a sentinel can be scary. In fact, these clans can get to a point where heal triggers would contribute nominally to defend against a big swing. We'll start by going over the questions that I mentioned above.

Damage and Triggers

To begin, I will introduce to you the sub-types of Force decks through answering the initial pair of questions: “How much damage can you afford to take this turn?” and “How many triggers are out of the deck?” The first question asks for how much “cushion” damage you can take before depleting hand size a significant amount. In a game of Cardfight!! Vanguard, you must keep in mind a general goal by the time you ride your next card. A good point damage-wise to find yourself in by the time you ride to grade 3 would be 2-3 damage. I have determined this because 1 restricts the amount of counterblast usage you can do. This means if you wish to use more skills beyond the first counterblast, you will have to expend resources early to counter charge so you can maintain tempo. On the other hand, if you find yourself at 4 or more damage, your damage cushion is in danger because the opponent just has to hit a critical to potentially win. Against some Force decks like Genesis and Gear Chronicle, guarding early is not truly necessary because these decks take some time to build towards their endgame. In other words, you do not normally see these types of decks rushing early. These are the “slow builders.” However, guarding early can work for the “big swingers” of Force clans: i.e. Neo Nectar and Bermuda Triangle. By mid-to-late game, you are faced with numbers over 40k on each column. This does depend on the opponent’s skill and hand, but that 2-card 35k shield would have diminishing returns as each column gets bigger and bigger. Ditching a 15k or 20k shield early on helps to prevent asking for number checks when you realize you ran out of sentinels to use.

Nevertheless, you also have the “hybrid” clans like Kagero and Spike Brothers, where you want to guard the Vanguard attack almost every turn. These clans have additional gimmicks, such as restanding themselves or rear guards, along with hitting large numbers. This is because both Kagero and Spike Brothers have truly advantageous skills if their swings do hit. When facing both of these clans in a match, keep a mental note of how many triggers the opponent activated. This way, you have a better sense of comfort going into guarding because you counted out all of their critical triggers, or maybe you knew they drove checked the last heal in the deck to prevent miracle healing. Additionally, when these force clans would hit higher numbers than any time before, you should only worry about which swing has the critical.

Speaking of triggers, the second question becomes increasingly important going into the late game. Since Force clans do not have access to fronts, it is useful to note whether the opponent has the “standard” eight critical, four draw sentinels, and four heals. There are some clans such as Dimension Police and Shadow Paladins that are inclined to run a few more draw triggers due to either a large presence of grade 3 cards in one’s deck build or the heavy resources used to activate the clan’s skills. This does not mean that the other eight clans that I mentioned above are locked into the “standard,” but you have an extra thought to remember going into mid/late game.

What am I losing? Hand/Board State

The next strategy attempts to answer the question of card advantage. So what cards you are willing to lose, and how will your board state look like if it comes back to your turn? Against “slow builder” Force decks, you want to first understand what your opponent’s main Vanguard does. You also want to anticipate what will the opponent ride when you go on the defensive. Going by the three types of Force decks mentioned above, let’s break down each strategy. For guarding slower paced decks like Genesis and Gear Chronicle you can learn what the general endgame looks like after play-testing or researching them through videos. There is not much field manipulation that will affect your board state with these types, but you must prepare for their big push turns once they achieve them. For Genesis, you want to be ready for Himiko’s critical/draw engine when it goes off and Gear Chronicle when they start forming bigger numbers after binding more of their cards. The common theme is ensuring you build a hand to get ready to guard, and you once you weather that storm, you can feel comfortable pushing back. You would want to save your sentinels until those turns in the scenario where they hit triggers.

Against the “big swingers”, guarding early is the name of the game. However, you must think twice. First, you have to check if this card is needed to advance your offensive strategy in the following turns. The worst part of reckless guarding is the realization where you missed additional pressure or card advantage because you guarded with a needed card to start or solidify your engine. Second, you check how many copies of that guard card you have left in your deck. This will also involve checking if you can fetch that copy from the damage zone, drop zone, or deck. However, this is applicable only in certain clans where they can toolbox their way through other zones to get their copies back. You cannot fully anticipate what the opponent will hit on the drive check, but the basic mantra when you are getting rushed at grade 1 or 2 is (1) to quickly reflect on the two mental checks and ask yourself an additional question. This is “Will I guard the same number if my opponent hits a trigger?” This is one of the parts of Vanguard where you will have to take a moment to understand the numbers game before you. You must account for any other power increases (by the unit’s skill or by normal G1 boosting) the attacking units have. A general goal to aim for is to guard one attack and take two hits. You would not want to lose two cards to guard separate attacks unless you have a card advantage engine to help replenish your hand. An exception is their card advantage on-hits, which will be discussed later.

Finally, you have the “hybrids”, where they have a specific card advantage engine that will restrict your guarding options. These are probably the most stressful Force clans to face against. Whether these Vanguards re-stand, have built-in criticals, or restrict guard, you want to highly prioritize your guard cards against these Vanguards. Early game will be a hopefully normal paced game, but once they ride their first grade 3, you want to start lining up 2-to-pass guards or sentinel them outright. We cannot account for every trigger that is checked, but we can at least anticipate how would a single trigger or double trigger would change our guard pattern. It can take some time to devise an effective strategy at first. After play-testing and understanding how these decks work, you can start boiling down those thoughts to a mental “one-pager.” The only instance where you would not guard these swings is because you have no triggers or effective guard cards to prevent your opponent’s Vanguard from hitting. If you have to drop more than three cards to guard, there is big trouble if the rear guard swings are getting one or both triggers. Here, you first ask politely for each column’s numbers before triggers. Next, you check your damage. Then, you check your guard cards in hand and see what are you willing to lose. Finally, you declare your guard.

When going through your current board state, another point to think of is the interceptor option. Many players mistakenly over-guard with a trigger instead of intercepting or double intercepting an opponent’s swing. You would have to check your field and hand to ensure you can readily replace the interceptor to have a stronger push. However, Force decks in particular are not known for small pokes. That does not stop the player from considering the option when you thought you were 5k shield off. Many matches are decided because the defending player was 5k shield value off. Against any of the three categories of decks, you can apply this general strategy, but would have to ask a few more mental questions to confirm the intercept is the right play. You first would have to understand if the opponent is preventing you from intercepting through one of their unit’s skills. Next you would have to understand the numbers. A 12k base and a 13k base make a huge difference in guard power. Keep in mind the 5k power increments each time you build your guard cards to exceed their attacking power.

Opponent's Advantage/On-Hits

The last pair of questions to ask is the opponent’s card advantage and what they will gain by the end of their turn. Force decks in particular will generate advantage naturally over the course of a game. For “hybrid” clans, they have inherent field manipulation engines to gain advantage that do not normally require on-hits. For “big swinger” decks, they will require having particular cards to generate higher numbers off of their advantage engine. For “slow builder” decks, they have been gaining advantage slowly ever since their grade 2 rides. This pair of questions requires you to pay attention to the way your opponent plays their cards or if they would play cards at all. Would they fill up their field? Or would they only have two columns swinging? There are some spots where you see opponents’ frustration. They probably do not have many normal units to call, giving off a signal that they might have mostly triggers in hand. The other extreme is calling a full board with only one or two cards left in hand. This sends a signal that they have low guard power, but an aggressive offense. More importantly, you will have to understand what your opponent is trying to do. If they are trying to rush, ask yourself if they are dependent on on-hit skills to replenish their hand or generate greater offense. From there, you want to guard their on-hits and take their normal swings. The good part about defending against Force I clans is that they almost all have just three swings in a turn. The exceptions are (1) Spike Bros, if Seifried gets his on-hit Vanguard skill, and (2) Bermuda Triangle Highlander decks that can generate an Accel circle with Anezka.

Another question to ask is when to delay the card advantage. Sometimes there are cases where denying card advantage by guarding units that on-hit draw by a turn or a Vanguard re-stand is advantageous. It takes cards out of your hands, but you prevent your opponent from gaining cards in return. This takes some time to think over, but you must learn to think quickly. A tournament setting definitely applies the correct amount of pressure to keep thinking on your feet.

Defending against Force Clans Using Force II

Force Marker II (“Force II”) made quite the splash when it appeared. Instead of +10k power to any circle on your field, it now grants the unit with a base critical of two. This means that you do not need a critical trigger to threaten potentially lethal damage. However, this also means that you will not gain any benefit by placing these markers on your back row. This is because the booster cannot grant its own critical to the attacker (at least not yet). Additionally, you cannot stack Force II markers on your circles because it only changes the base critical of the unit to 2. Recently, we have seen more cards revealed that have a base critical of 2. Granted, these cards belong to Protect clans, but if they do make their way over to Force clans, Force II becomes even less of a viable option. Alas, Protect decks are a different day.

There are many games where the player wished their attacking unit had a critical on it to deal lethal damage. However, there are some downsides you must consider when facing against a clan that chose Force II instead of Force I. Exchanging power for damage is a vastly different power trip and will cause you to approach games in a different manner.

Damage and Triggers

The first pair of questions in Force II will matter increasingly more as the game goes along. Although there can only be at most three Force II circles placed across your front row (absent any Anezka shenanigans), the base critical of 2 will always be a prevalent threat. You would have to analyze your hand and guard power to determine how to cushion as much damage as possible for your next push. Just like above, we would first divide up the amount of Force clans into the three sub-categories: slow builders, hybrids, and big swingers. Slow builders can have differing opinions how their board would look like at the time, but this is the subcategory likely would use Force II. Slow builders like Genesis would take a few turns to advance their strategy to ensure they have bigger push turns. However, having a base critical of 2 in the mid-game would change your guard strategy. Taking a hit for 2 damage would hurt early on because once the slow builders hit their push turn, you are going to be at a bigger disadvantage damage-wise where even staying at 4 damage is not a good cushion target. And surprisingly, this would quicken the slow builders and establish an even more credible threat. My advice would be to try to stay at 3 damage until their second grade 3 ride that grants another Force II. This way, you would get a better chance at checking another defensive trigger to help guard the remaining attack/s. If the opponent places Force II on their Vanguard slot first, then prepare to keep guarding the Vanguard swing until the endgame. We can hope for no extra critical trigger checks, but that would already be answered if you keep remembering how many triggers are out of the deck, especially if they are critical or heal triggers. As you see more critical triggers checked out of the deck, the less likely you will be taking more than 2 damage on the rear guard swings.

As for big swingers, they seek to end the game as soon as possible or gamble for enough advantage to overwhelm you. Once again, guarding early and managing damage matters so much against the high rollers, especially if they decide to go with Force II. Shadow Paladins, Neo Nectar, and Bermuda Triangle all do not mind losing out of 10k power because they generate so much power on rear guards or Vanguard swings. I have noticed many games where the gamble paid off and units are still swinging for over 30k with Force II, as they generate power by themselves to make up for the Force I loss. Against these decks in particular, they will try to rush down if they have high rolled into their advantage engines, so try to keep to 2 damage by the time you ride to Grade 3. Unlike Force I, you can give your cards more weight because a 10k shield difference can make or a break an attack. Always try to save your sentinels against a swing on Force II unless you find yourself needing counterblast. Your opponent giving two counterblasts to you to use your on next turn can be deadly and especially if it sets up needed resources to alleviate the high rolling for card advantage and/or counter-aggression. So you would need to ask yourself if you would rather take the hit now and be a little more prepared to guard on the next defensive turn, or hope that the big swingers do not high roll again the next turn and present an even bigger board of concern on top of a base critical of 2.

Finally, for the hybrids, this can be the least likely sub-type that will use Force II. This is mostly because that clans like Kagero and Dimension Police will need to hit higher power thresholds to continue Vanguard pressure and draw out sentinels. Additionally, the 10k power of Force I of big swingers creates scarier scenarios for guard restriction, additional built-in criticals, and re-standing Vanguards. If they want to use Force II, then they will most likely run more cards to power up their units or feel that they would want to make their rear-guard swings scarier. Force II is still a viable option for the hybrids, but they are the least likely to use Force II in most situations when they are mostly focusing on their Vanguards.

What am I losing? Hand/Board State

Now for the next pair of questions, we must wonder if there are any differences used to guard when swings have a base critical of 2. Surprisingly, the three sub-types all would focus more on swinging at Vanguard. In this case, Force II becomes slightly easier to guard because you can feel more comfortable about dropping guard, especially against slow builders and hybrids. Big swingers still have the high numbers from their inherent boosts, but they whiff or lack numbers if they fail to dig for their optimal cards. One interesting tidbit is that affecting the base critical will mean that there is a slight tilt towards beating your Vanguard’s face in, rather than taking rear guard swings. If any of your opponents’ units swings at the rear guard with Force II, then they are that adamant about getting rid of that key unit that they would sacrifice a swing to deal damage. What the opponent must realize they just made that swing at your rear guard 10k power easier to guard.

On the bright side, your card shield value jumped up because they forgo their power for damage. An even brighter side is that you can feel comfortable building your rear-guard presence against Force decks that use Force II because by the mid to late game, the swings will be at your Vanguard. This can be good or bad depending on your hand, but placing down a threatening rear-guard early on can draw the ire of your opponent to take a break and instead attack that rear-guard. I would put an asterisk there because there are Force decks that can manipulate and control the board, which will I will go into for the third pair.

Opponent's Advantage/On-Hits

Finally, the third pair of questions for Force II are in similar fashion to the second pair. You would always like to ask yourself if the unit that is attacking has any quirks on guard restriction, an inherent power boost, or powerful on-hit abilities. In some cases, like in Kagero, Link Joker, and Spike Brothers, having card advantage is crucial, because they have access to re-standing Vanguards, multi-attacking rear guards, or conditional on-hit pressure to draw cards or manipulate your board. Here, you must be extremely careful of guarding in order to control your opponent’s aggression. Even if your opponent is granting you more counterblasts to use, you also lose out on cards that you could have used. Whether they were triggers that could have been drive checked rather than damage checked, or a key Grade 3 ride to get access to more efficient push turns, those are cards lost to the damage zone. The card advantage in Force II is the fact that slowly but surely, every column will be swinging for 2 damage each. Denying attacks early into the game will be arguably harder to guard once the opponent generates the next 2+ circles with Force II. At least two circles with Force 2 will more than likely lead to over-guard.

I would recommend asking the question, “Would my advantage lead me to a closer win if I have a second counterblast to use?” So take a look at your hand. Then ask yourself and see if you have equal or more triggers than normal units. If this is the case, then focus more on guarding earlier because there is a higher chance you can draw into more “gas” (TCG term for advancing a player’s game state), and push your opponent into a more dire attacking strategy. If you have more normal units than triggers, then you would most likely have to take one circle with Force II unless you can consistently perfect guard. However, losing out on two cards every defensive turn will hurt your hand in the long-run. And then there is losing four cards for two Force II circles or even 6 on three Force II circles.

So, now I will advise on an opposing take on taking the critical hits later into the game. A general rule of thumb is to determine at what turn into the game will you take that two damage. Taking the critical hit early can be more helpful than not because of a higher chance heal triggers can activate. Or sometimes you have just cards that you would want to activate skills for, but require more than one counterblast. One criterion to keep in mind is to check your opponent’s damage. There are some cases where people would take the Force II hit and would hope that one or bother of the damage checks are heal triggers that can fully activate. Here, you can inquire to check trigger counts and on-hits to ensure that the opponent will have as little card advantage as generated as possible. Sometimes delaying that advantage until the endgame will diminish the options your opponent has for swinging into their store.

That is it for the first chapter of Art of Defense – Force! I hope that you have enjoyed reading this and will be willing to take suggestions and edits to help make this better. Have a good one!

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