What is Metagaming?
People will sometimes hear words thrown around at your local events, like “This an aggro deck that tries to pressure the opponent”; “that something uses this, this and that for a combo”, and so on. But just what are they talking about when they are referring to these types of things? Well, what they are talking about is basic metagaming. Metagaming is understanding concepts about a game that are inherent to doing well, that have nothing to do with the basic rules, and thinking about strength in-game on a level beyond “this got first, so it’s clearly the best deck here”. In the case of a TCG like we’re playing, this can take multiple shapes: Deck win percentages, variables, how matchups work, and so on. There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to metagaming, but this article’ll focus on a core concept in the realm of deckbuilding: basic deck archetypes.
What are deck archetypes? They are a categorization of different strategies that decks are built around to determine how it intends to win. There are three basic archetypes: aggro, control and combo. Aggro (or aggressive decks) try to aim to beat the opponent down – their goal is smash their opponents face in before they can kill them. Control decks are slower, and try to stop their opponent from killing them, and then win the game at their own pace. Combo decks try to set up a combined ability between multiple cards that, while requires time and some setup, is difficult (or some cases impossible) to stop once it gets going. I could write a whole article on each of these archetypes and not be able to finish explaining them in detail, but these will at least serve as a basic starting point to understanding what these mean.
How Cardfight is hard to discern, and how these lines can be blurry
What makes this a bit of challenge for Cardfight is that the structure of how the game plays is very linear. What I mean is that most games follow a very structured formula: You ride a grade 1, then a grade 2, then a grade 3 and then most decks get to start doing their business of attacking the Vanguard enough times to win the game. This makes every deck seem to start at the same time, and how they operate seem to require similar pieces and do the same things at the end of the day. In comparison to other card games, this is a bit limited in terms of available way to interact with your opponent. Take the two most popular card games in the world: Yu-Gi-Oh! And Magic: The Gathering. Both games have a very simple system; you have to kill your opponent (from 8000 Life Points to 0 in YGO, and 20 Life to 0 in MTG). These are very vague goals, and the systems make it so that you have a lot more freedom in how you can reach these end results. Cardfight’s system forces you to reach your end goal in a very specific manner – Attack your opponent’s vanguard enough times with your own attacks to get them to a total of 6 damage. While this may seem open-ended at first, in comparison is quite limited. Your only method of killing them (outside of mill, which isn’t much of a thing in Cardfight yet thankfully) is to deal them 6 damage. And the only way to do that is to hit Vanguard, and the only way to do that is to attack it successfully.
This doesn’t leave much room for variation in terms of how decks play and operate. Thus, the lines can be distinctly blurry on how these work, and everything can feel the same. It should also be noted that these are not necessarily labels that need to be followed at all times. The goal of understanding a deck’s archetype is to understand how the deck intends to win, and to use that to help form decisions for deckbuilding on how to make it work like these. Obviously, these archetypes can blend pretty easily, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to keep this to just the core, basic types; aggro, control and combo. If the opportunity comes, I’ll write something that goes into more detail on how these can bleed together, but first we need to gain an understanding of just what we’re talking about first. And where better to start than:
Aggro, or aggressive, is essentially the strategy of punching. As an aggro player, your method is to keep attacking your opponent, pressuring them with regular hits, or massively large ones. The aggro player’s philosophy is quite simple; my opponent dies if I keep hitting them. Your hope is that your regular hits will apply consistent pressure on them, blasting away their resources, and either killing them outright, making it so that by the time they are ready to go, they're already dead. High power and consistent hits are the name of the game, and your goal is count to six before your opponent is ready to go; can you handle doing that?
Popular Aggro lists/clans: Dudley Emperor, Gold Paladins, Nova Grappler, Soulless CoCo, Battle Sisters, Arboros Dragon, Great Daiyusha.
There’s three major methods of aggro (generally speaking) in Cardfight. The first method is to regularly punch with multiple series of attacks to the Vanguard. This generally includes stand triggers, and card effects that regularly stand units. Generally, these clans usually have a weak defensive hand, but trade it off for regular attacks that are boosted, requiring multiple 10k shields. They aim for Vanguard almost exclusively, trying to make the combination of attack form a wave of pressure on the opponent’s hand and continuously weaken it. They only attack things outside of the Vanguard that would either stop them from being able to kill the opponent, or something that will kill them if left alone, and quickly (see Silent Tom). As a clan, the best example of this is Nova Grapplers: the majority of the builds (with exceptions like Blaukluger and the like) generally focus on multiple stands, and constant hits. Their goal is smash your hand down with more hits than you have cards to guard with.
The second major method involves regular criticals. By this, I mean decks that have static criticals. While they don’t get to pressure your hand with the previous method of regularly sending out regular attacks, you instead pressure them by forcing them to guard attacks that normally they could just take, pressuring their hand to continue keeping up with the regular assaults. Most of this tends to focus on the center line; if the Vanguard has a static critical, you either have to use perfect guards to block it, or overguard to make sure that attack hits though. This is because that attack getting through will either kill you or leave your opponent at a huge advantage you can’t recover from. However, by forcing you to overguard, they are gaining a natural advantage you can do little about. As a clan, the best example of this would be the Dimension Police, with their focus on powering up the Vanguard for regular bonus criticals. However, they are not the only ones that do this strategy. Another example is Royal Paladin’s Majesty Lord Blaster build.
The final method of aggro is that of a big rush of high powered attacks. These decks focus on quick, aggressive, very high-powered attacks that punish the opponent for only having four perfect guards. Generally these decks run effects that tend to power up their units for some cost, and aim keep the opponent pressured by continuously having to have them guard very heavy hits. Unfortunately, the central problem to that they tend to burnout on methods that allow to continue doing this, making their wave of assault a bit limited. As a clan, the best example of this is Great Nature. Their goal is to regularly power up their units, and sacrifice them afterwards due to card effects. However, they will use counterblast effects to make it so that they draw a card, to leave them at a +0 as a whole, though they do still get drained out on quality cards eventually.
In a steep contrast from aggro, control decks don’t really aim to win per se... It’s more like their goal is to stop their opponent from being able to win, and that their victory will just come as a matter of course following that. Where the aggro player was focused on the means that reached the end result, the control player’s only desire is the end result itself. And as a rule, if your opponent can’t win… then you do. Simple enough, right? No? Then what does it mean to stop your opponent from winning? Well, let’s use an example.
Say you’re playing Nova Grapplers Asura Kaiser-Azure Dragon, and are at 4 damage. Your gameplan is to keep punching the opponent with multiple attacks and keep smashing til there’s nothing left to smash. You have three cards in hand, including one perfect guard. You currently have one booster (for your Vanguard) and one column. Your opponent is on DOTE, with four cards in his hand and only a booster for the Vanguard. Two of the cards in his hand are a Demonic Dragon Mage, Kimnara and a Berserk Dragon. Your opponent uses the Kimnara and Berserk Dragon to destroy your boosters, drops a booster for the Berserk and then uses a rear-guard attack to finish off your column. He then goes to attack your Vanguard for the kill. You use your perfect guard, leaving you a single card in hand. You are still alive; however you lack a field to be able to kill your opponent, and they can easily parry your weak hits until you just eventually crumble to their normal attacks.
This is the concept of playing control. You are not playing to defeat your opponent: you are making so that it is impossible for them to win. This can be achieved through various methods that will be explained, but the goal is simple: your opponent cannot beat what you are playing, because it stops them from winning. It makes this a very popular type of strategy for many people: what’s better sounding than something that your opponents can’t beat?
Popular Clans/Builds: Kagero/ Narukami, Shadow Paladins, Megacolony, Murakumo, DOTE-Crossride, THE BLOOD-Crossride, Megacolony, Ildona/Dark Dictator, Tsukuyomi.
In Cardfight in particular, there are two methods to how control operates. The first of these in the concept of defensive and conservative plays, and gaining a massive hand advantage that your opponent can’t cut through. This is then used to either just maintain the hand size until the opponent is dead, or return your hand a more normal (but still larger than your opponent’s) size, and mount an offensive assault that kills them faster than they can kill you. While this second concept may seem aggressive in nature, its core is control as it only doing this after it confirmedly locked the opponent out of winning. As a clan, the best embodiment of this strategy is the Oracle Think Tank – Their purpose is to draw themselves into a position where their opponent cannot beat them. The best example of this strategy operating is also within that clan – The Tsukuyomi ride chain. The goal of this deck to draw cards, and gain a defensive edge, until you have such an edge over your opponent that they cannot overcome your massive card advantage.
The other major method is to close your opponent’s victory in the style mentioned in the example above: the advantage of board presence. This is generally done by using card effects and strategic attacks on rear-guards to make it so that your opponent lacks boosters, attackers and in some cases both. This strategy either softens attacks so that they are easier to guard, and gain an advantage that way; or shut down their field to the point that they can no longer mount any real attacks on you, and then just lose. As a clan, the best examples of this are Kagero and Narukami: if your opponent no longer has a field, they can no longer attack to win; only to try to recover what they once had. If they can no longer do that, your victory is assured. A popular build of this is Dragonic Overlord, the End Crossride.
If aggro was the concept of making sure the means meet the end, and control was the concept of making sure your opponent could not reach the end, then combo is making sure that you can reach the end, and not be stopped by anything once you’re going. Generally this includes a lot of combination of cards triggering effects, making for a series of fireworks that once they start, can’t end. The goal of the combo player is to make a series of cards that have effects that work positively with each other, to the point where the end result is supposed to be with your opponent being dead. These cards will work in combination, and gain you an advantage that once started, is incredibly difficult (if not impossible to) to stop before it kills you. The only flaw is that most of these require set up time, or very specific conditions to be activated to start it. Do you think you can start it in time to kill your opponent?
Popular Clans/Builds: Bermuda Triangle, Pale Moon, Aqua Force, Angel Feather, Dark Irregulars, Sword Magician Sarah, Blade Wing Reiji, Shamisel
Unlike the other subtypes, combo is only really in one shape for Cardfight: Have a combo, set it up, and use it to win. This is part the problem that Cardfight has as game that was brought up earlier; since your only method of killing the opponent is locked into successfully attacking the Vanguard, there’s little that can be done outside of just making a combo either gives you an unstoppable edge, or is too big of punch to stop. These decks can take aggressive or control shapes, such as the Blade Wing Reiji combo in Dark Irregulars, or the playstyle of Bermuda Triangle clan as a whole. While the core concept is similar in nature to all of these, they all play their combos differently, and all have different methods of being stopped. As a clan, a good example of this would be the Bermuda Triangle clan – using positive card combinations of soulblasting and drawing cards to have such a powerful advantage that you opponent can’t even begin to keep up.
What is even the point of knowing all of this?
Okay, many of you have been probably sitting here wondering “All of this is nice and cool, but what in the world am I going to use this for? I’m not even a competitive player!” Well, it has some value even at a local level. For even the most casual of the player, this knowledge serves two major purposes:
First and foremost, understanding what type of deck you’re trying to build is a massive aid to deck construction. Understanding what your deck is trying to do when building it helps you make decisions that aid with the flow of deck construction, and can help your deck be more in line with what it wants to do, even if all you understand is the basic concepts. For example; you are trying to build an Arboros Dragon deck. You are stuck with a decision: Caramel Popcorn, or Lady of the Sunlight Forest for your last grade 1 spot. You realize that Arboros Dragon is a combo-aggro deck: is goal is to set up a combo of Arboros Dragon, Sephirot and cards with the same name on the field to make for an aggressive and powerful board state that’s hard to beat. With that in mind, you now understand of the two, you want one that continues to add pressure to your opponent, and not use the one that doesn’t add pressure. Caramel allows you to use your unused counterblasts to aid in increasing pressure on the opponent, so that one goes in, and helps your deck become stronger.
Secondly, understanding metagame tactics isn’t just something that should be done for big, fancy regional tournaments. It can (and actually has its highest value to) be used at local tournaments as well. If you can come to an understanding of what types of decks are in the room, then you can build something that counteracts that room, and then win the local tournament! For example, let’s say your local event has eight people. All of them like their aggro decks. Two of them are playing Nova Grapplers, two of them are on Dimension Police and four of them are on different varieties of Royal Paladins – MLB, SSD, even Galahad. You know that the room has mostly fairly aggressive decks. You can counteract this by building a powerful control that stops them from being able to beat you down, beating all of the aggro decks in the room, and win the tournament! This coincides with goals with trying to win a tournament: to be the best deck in the room. If you understand the core concepts of what your opponents are trying to do and counteract, that is being the strongest deck in the room, and gives you a humungous edge while aiming for it.
Understanding deck archetypes may seem unimportant at first, but it serves an incredibly important role in deck construction, deck decision, and results in tournament play. It’s something that is there for everyone who has the drive and willing to understand it. It’s a valuable weapon in the arsenal of those who use it, and a painful loss for those have to fight against it. After all, the opponent’s deck was tuned just to beat them. There’s little reason not to attempt to learn this stuff, even if you just play in local tournaments. Metagaming holds an important role in even the tiniest and most casual of metas. The question is simple: are you willing to use it?