Monday, July 25, 2016

The Growth and Expansion of Vanguard

Vanguard as a TCG is starting to get on in years - 5 and counting - and it's survived a lot of rough patches along the way in order to reach its current state. Viability across the clans is at an all time high. The average Cardfight is more interactive and entertaining than ever before. Deck building is less clear-cut in many cases, which places a greater emphasis on really understanding what you as a player are trying to accomplish within the given card pool, and very rarely will you decide on an addition simply because "there isn't anything else I could be using". It's a great time to be playing Vanguard, and both the sales reports and event attendance rates are a testament to that fact. It's not an accident, either. The current state of the game is a culmination of Bushiroad's past experiences combined with the very real desire to provide players with product that is bigger, faster, and stronger than the cards of yesteryear. This policy of card power inflation is the primary subject I want to explore today.

I want to preface this by saying power creep isn't all bad. Without it, we'd have never gotten past the overbearing presence of Crossrides, nor the extremely oppressive Lock ability. The timely appearance of triggers during a game would still trump anything a given player or deck did in the vast majority of cases. And chances are that Royal Paladin would still be the uncontested king of consistency and flexibility that nothing else could ever hope to mirror. In other words, Bushiroad's willingness to push beyond the established standard has led to a lot of interesting things and avoided what could have been a lot more stagnation than we actually dealt with.

A dying breed... in just about every sense.

Some forms of power creep are obvious to see. Grade 3 cards with 10,000 base power haven't been pushed as serious contenders for the better part of two years. Numerous cards have strong abilities that require you to focus on the only boss you would want to consider in the first place. Effects that exist exclusively to hold cards back, such as Restraint or Lord, are almost completely gone with no signs of ever returning. Even a previously format defining keyword - Limit Break - came to be so dated that a series of cards were rolled out that turned it off, allowing players to use the abilities whenever they like. And to the surprise of no one who's stuck around to see the game grow, most of these cards are still no longer viable.

The world keeps spinning. Must be dizzy.

Other forms of power creep are more subtle. Prior to the beginning of Vanguard G, the number of effects that fired on the opponent's turn were slim and universally the same. Now we have a bunch of them, and they do a lot of different things. Alter Ego Messiah can draw cards, Gurguit can call upon pinch defenders, Denial Griffon cancels attacks outright by retiring rear-guards in a manner more proactive than we've ever seen before, and many decks are able to use some sort of combo to achieve rather unshakeable power during the opponent's battle phase (looking at you, Nociel and Garnet).

11/10, you damn overachiever.

The overall flexibility of cards has seen a dramatic increase. Triggers are no longer just triggers - their individual effects play an incredible role in the success of their respective decks. Heals in particular are just outright worth more than they were a few months ago because they became the catalysts for G Guardians, which in and of themselves have rather limitless design potential. Some forerunners are so good that it's become viable to play them in multiples. Grade 1 cards have done double duty as both boosters and attackers for a long time, and now some are even going a step further by providing search power and the ability to become fodder for a bigger play. Grade 2s regularly get two abilities. Grade 3s... well... you know...

One-shot skills are taking a back seat to those you can use repeatedly over time. Even the very cost to use an ability can prove beneficial these days.

Do you even into perpetual motion?

Then you've got powerful generic G-Units that share the name of their respective clan's strider Grade 3. I've always thought this was a bit of a mistake, since it allows support tied to their names to be used in any deck that has the space and isn't already sitting on a goldmine of more desirable options. This is particularly apparent when you look at the current state of Kagero - there's simply no reason to use a deck centered around Blademaster when Taiten allows Overlord to have access to Jannat, Nadel, Radiant Dragon, etc. and never miss a beat. Thankfully other clans like Neonectar and Granblue have largely avoided the issue by way of more nuanced design decisions.

There's certainly a lot more that could be done in the future, too. I won't pretend to know what Bushiroad has in store, but like it or not, you can count on most of the trends we see today continuing for a good, long time.

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