As Cardfight!! Vanguard enters its third generation, it is important to look over and evaluate the latest addition to the game: Break Rides. They're arguably the most important piece of the current Japanese metagame, and we're already getting several of them already. So to put it simply, what are Break Rides, and how do they affect the game?
Based on the Break Ride units released so far, we can classify a Break Ride as a Grade 3 with 11k base power (and consequently, Lord) that comes with a small skill that can give it extra power during your turn. Each Break Ride has a Limit Break that activates when you ride a Grade 3 or higher over it. That unit then gains 10k power for the turn along with an additional effect that varies for each Break Ride. This power boost can already be a scary thing to face. With an extra 10k power, it can be much harder to guard a vanguard attack (on-hit abilities make this even scarier). Break Rides don't stop there though, because their additional skill is what usually makes them defining.
Let's look at some of the first Break Rides for example. Solitary Liberator, Gancelot is a Gold Paladin Break Ride from Trial Deck 8: Liberator of the Sanctuary. Its skill gives three of your Gold Paladin rear guards 5k power during the turn you Break Ride, in addition to the natural 10k power. Damage counts and on-hit abilities can really make this skill shine, as your rear guard attacks will definitely be much harder to guard. Pure Heart Jewel Knight, Ashley is a Royal Paladin Break Ride from Booster Set 10: Triumphant Return of the King of Knights. Its additional skill gives your vanguard an extra critical for a turn, which in the late game can practically demand a perfect guard from your opponent. Eradicator, Vowing Sword Dragon is a Narukami Break Ride from Trial Deck 9: Eradicator of the Empire that retires a front row rear guard when you Break Ride.
As you can see, Break Ride skills vary a lot in swinging the game in your favor. They can support and combo with rear guard pressure, vanguard pressure, simple card advantage, or a combination of the three to create very powerful burst turns. These turns can most of the time exert so much burst that you can close up games relatively quickly as a result, but what are the downsides?
The first obvious downside is that as the game gets more and more Break Rides, the more often you're playing against Break Rides yourself. Break Rides can easily fit into most decks, and some are more powerful than others, so it's very important to consider the potential burst from your opponent's Break Ride and plan a counter strategy based on it. Break Rides that affect rear guards on the field, such as Gancelot and Genesis' Oracle Queen Himiko can put a lot of power on the board and tax a lot of guard from the hand. So logically, an effective counter strategy is to keep their rear guards off the board if you know they can Break Ride, so they can't take the most advantage of the Break Ride.
Unfortunately, the vanguard centered Break Rides don't have easy counter play like that. Kagero's Dauntless Drive Dragon allows a second attack from their vanguard during the turn you Break Ride. If you know that the Break Ride carries a lot of damage, try to keep yourself on the low end of damage until they burst you. There's a HUGE difference between being at 3 damage and 5 damage vs a Dauntless Drive Dragon. You can easily take one or two 21k+ hits when you're at 3 damage, but you need a huge amount of guard to keep you alive at 5. Obviously there are some games where you can't keep yourself on the low end due to inconvenient critical triggers, but it's still the ideal method of survival vs those forms of Break Rides.
The Break Rides that generate simple card advantage are a bit trickier than the rest, because the term "simple card advantage" comes in a few forms, such as creating field presence, destroying field presence, and drawing cards. However, it simply boils down to preventing them from getting that card advantage. If their Break Ride generates field presence, you can focus attacks more on the vanguard so they don't have open slots to call units. If their Break Ride destroys field presence, try to bait it out using less valuable units. Their Break Ride turn is usually happening once per game unless they combo it with another copy of the Break Ride, so once you get past it once, depending on the deck, it's not too much to worry about. Nothing can be done to specifically counter a Break Ride that draws cards, but you can take advantage of their lack of cards in their hand before they Break Ride and capitalize at that point in the game.
The second downside of Break Rides is that they lose A LOT of effectiveness if you ride a different Grade 3 first. Unless your deck has a Superior Ride mechanic, it's in very poor taste to ride your Break Ride unit over your other Grade 3, THEN ride another Grade 3 over that. Japanese players have already tackled this issue by using the series of starting vanguards that help add Grade 3's to your hand. Little Fighter, Cron, for example, can look at the top 5 cards of your deck and add 1 Grade 3 or higher among them to your hand at the cost of a counterblast and moving it into the soul. These types of cards increase the chances of you obtaining a Grade 3 by a lot, specifically your Break Ride, and can be really clutch when trying to build your Break Ride combos.
Another factor to consider is that Break Rides usually prevent you from benefiting from Cross Ride bonuses, or useful Grade 3 rear guards. The most consistent Grade 3 lineup to utilize Break Rides with is a 4:4 split between your Break Ride and your boss unit (Or one of two forms of 4:3). Playing a third Grade 3 simply peels away the consistency that you want with Break Rides, making it not worth it. Not to worry though, as Bushiroad has recently created some Cross Rides for Break Ride units themselves, such as Vowing Sword Dragon and Angel Feather's Prophecy Celestial, Ramiel.
Lastly, keep in mind that if both players have a Break Ride, they're making some sort of attempt to keep the other player from capitalizing off of their Break Ride. This emphasizes the third damage for both players. The third damage indicates that they're at the highest point in damage without being able to Break Ride, so it's important to think twice before attacking a vanguard. Are you prepared for their potential onslaught next turn? Can you afford it? If you're preparing a Break Ride and you're at three damage, most of the time your opponent is too scared to face it and will try to snipe off your rear guards instead of attacking your vanguard. This leads me into my next, and perhaps most important topic of the Break Ride era: commitment.
Up until now, Vanguard has had a very universal view of commitment, which was that overextending is usually the right play. Games drastically accelerated by the time a player rode their Grade 2 vanguard, which was followed by calling one or two front row rear guards to push for damage, but could this be seen as a bad thing in some match-ups now? This might have applied to some decks that used Limit Break, but it's applied a lot more with Break Rides. Let's look at it like this: your deck relies heavily on resolving your Break Ride, which has the ability to put in you in a winning position in one turn. If you apply early pressure and throw your rear guards at them, they gain multiple targets to focus down and keep you low, preventing you from putting yourself in a winning position with your Break Ride as well as letting them generate enough resources to keep them in their dominant position. On the other hand, if you commit the minimum amount of rear guard pressure, your opponent will be forced to attack your vanguard more if they choose to commit more, or they slow themselves down to your speed. If they attack your vanguard more, you'll get setup to Break Ride faster and you'll win the game faster. Otherwise, they'll be brought down to your level of tempo and the field will be balanced until one player can use their burst to put themselves ahead. See the difference?
I basically just described the play style of one of the most powerful Break Ride decks in the Japanese metagame: Link Joker. Star-Vader, Infinite Zero Dragon is arguably one of the strongest Break Rides to come out of this era so far. It allows you to Lock a front row and back row rear guard when you Break Ride at no counterblast cost, which in turn shuts out the vanguard booster and a whole rear guard attack. While it may not carry as much damage as you would want it to, whenever you Break Ride Infinite Zero Dragon, you bring the ball into your court, and your opponent has to play by your rules. After the initial Break Ride, you can follow up with several Lock skills from Star-Vader units such as Chaos Breaker Dragon, Dust Tail Unicorn, and Palladium to shut down their field for the rest of the game. The essentially free Locks from the Break Ride really sets the deck in motion, and it's a perfect example of how a low level of early commitment can secure your win in the late game. No one wants to throw their deck at an Infinite Zero Dragon, because they'll very easily lose control of the game once Link Joker uses their burst, so you force them to focus your vanguard by committing to the board less. This in turn slows them down until someone gets knocked to 4 damage and they follow up with their burst.
This concept becomes tougher to apply with different types of Break Rides. Gancelot needs a good amount of field presence to be used effectively, so it's hard to play at a slow tempo. This is especially true with the great early game pressure Liberators come with, so it's up to you to find workarounds and find the right time to strike at your opponent. Regardless, the more burst that your Break Ride comes with, the more hesitant your opponent will be to put you at 4 damage. This is the most important point of the Break Ride era, as the skirmishes before your Break Ride become as important as the Break Rides themselves.
Ultimately, it is clear that Break Rides bring positive change to the game by expanding the concept of play styles for different match-ups and decks. They do appear to be extremely powerful at first glance, but they need to be used in the right ways to be as extremely powerful as you expect. In the wrong hands, a deck's strategy can easily fall apart without proper thought. As the game continues to expand, we'll get more and more Break Rides, so we can expect new perspectives of playing decks, which is exciting to think about.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I really hope to be able to write more for ARG, as I'm looking for a medium to express my knowledge of the game. But until then, see you next time.