Cardfight!! Vanguard is a deceivingly straightforward game. The rules are simple and interactions are nowhere near as complex as those in Yu-gi-oh. It’s quick to learn, and it’s very easy to build a functioning deck. However, Vanguard does require critical thinking, and skillful plays can be quite subtle. Many players go about their games not realizing opportunities for doing something clever or gaining an edge. If you do observe the little differences and pay attention to the minor details, you can make more of a difference than simply buying “better” cards and you can make up for bad luck (though not always overcome it).
There are a myriad of different things you can focus on and learn about, but today I’m going to focus on one of my favorite aspects of the game: pressure skills. By that I am referring to skills that require a successful attack before they can be activated. For example, Oracle Guardian Apollon gives you a card when his attack hits (CB 2), whereas Meteor Break Wizard can attack for 13,000 power, allowing him to hit for 21,000 when boosted by Oracle Guardian Gemini. I would call Apollon’s skill a “pressure skill,” and Wizard’s skill a “power skill.”
Skills that require hitting present one of the few areas of card interaction in Vanguard because your opponent can prevent you from benefitting from those skills. Hence, pressure skills have to be used properly, or else they don’t help you at all and you may as well be using a card with higher attack power instead. You can’t just expect to get the skills to activate; you have to make them happen.
Allowing your pressure skills to activate in your games consistently begins in deckbuilding. First of all, only use pressure cards if your deck can pay the cost and can make use of their effects most of the time. Its often not worth using pressure skills that require a cost your deck is tight on. For example, Oracle Guardian Apollon works great in an Amaterasu deck, but is terrible in a Tsukuyomi deck because Amaterasu doesn’t counterblast the vast majority of her games, whereas Tsukuyomi should be using up all your counterblasts in a deck centered around her. A more subtle example would be trying to use more 10k and 11k grade 2s in a Gold Rutile deck; Gold Rutile can make a rearguard stand when he hits, but standing a 9k grade 2 (such as Magician Girl Kirara) doesn’t do you any good if your opponent’s front row is made of all 10ks.
The second thing to consider in deckbuilding is, if you want to use pressure cards, use a LOT of them. In an Amaterasu deck, you will get your “counterblast 2 to draw 1” effects off much more often if you use Maiden of Libra and Oracle Guardian Apollon together. This is not simply due to having a higher chance of having a rearguard with the skill that Libra and Apollon share; rather, it’s due to having a higher chance of having two rearguards with that skill. It is much harder for your opponent to keep you from getting your pressure skills to activate if both of your rearguards have them, especially if he is at 4 damage and cannot risk letting your vanguard hit either.
Next, let’s look at in-game strategy for using pressure skills. There are three core ways to get your pressure skills to work: using them early game, hitting magic numbers, making a trade-off with your opponent, and manipulating your attack order and triggers.
Guarding attacks are the most costly and least beneficial in the first two turns of the game, before players have reached grade 3. This is the best time for activating pressure skills, because your opponent is unlikely to want to or be able to guard your attacks; he may need to take damage anyways for an early counterblast, or he may need to conserve his units for filling his field. This is why pressure skills on starting vanguards, such as Spring Breeze Messenger or Wingal Brave, usually get activated. If you do have a pressure skill unit in your opening hand, such as Player of the Holy Bow Viviane or Maiden of Libra, plan to ride it as your grade 2 vanguard and stick your strongest booster behind it; this will make it extremely difficult to stop from activating its skill, especially if you started first and your opponent is still at grade 1.
Planning ahead and setting up your columns to hit magic numbers can really pay off later in the game. A Nightmare Doll Alice backed by a Turquiose Beast Tamer (19,000 combined power) makes it dangerous for your opponent to put out anything in his front row with less than 10,000 power. Not only can you make a very strong push to activate Alice’s swap skill by attacking a 9,000 power rearguard, as long as she is still out your opponent will be discouraged from calling vulnerable units he may need, such as an especial intercept or Silent Tom.
Trade-offs are another viable strategy for midgame, after the juicy opportunity of early game has passed by, but they should be used sparingly and only after careful consideration. Using Maiden of Libra to attack your opponent’s rearguard Knight of Silence Gallatin to get her draw might seem like a good idea on the surface, but in reality it often balances out too much to be worth the counterblasts. Your opponent saved 5k of shield by losing a single rearguard instead of having to block Libra’s attack with 10k (minimum), and your draw will probably be a 5k shield unit. Very likely, you just paid 2 counterblasts for a 1-for-1. I would not recommend this unless you are confident your opponent does not have a replacement for Gallatin readily accessible. This option is much more palatable if the rearguard is a 10k especial intercept like Knight of Truth, Gordon, or a big threat, like a Silent Tom.
The most skill-intensive area of using pressure skills is undoubtedly making use of your attack order and trigger effects to force your pressure skills through. I consistently see players both at locals and online order their attacks without regard to their pressure skills, missing opportunities to gain potential advantage. With all the possible variables (how much damage your opponent is at, how many cards in his hand, the number and quality of rearguards, and various attack levels of your own units, and the kind of triggers you expect to get), it’s impossible to memorize patterns ahead of time. To master this area of the game, you must practice thinking analytically about the field setup and how to make the most of your situation.
Let’s look at a common setup and think about what to do. Your front row consists of Goddess of Flower Divinations, Sakuya as your vanguard and Maiden of Libra and Oracle Guardian Wiseman as your rearguards. Both rearguards will attack for 10k to block, and your opponent is at four damage. You should immediately recognize that your opponent cannot afford to let a 2 critical attack hit him, and use this to your advantage. Attack with your vanguard, first, and if you get a critical trigger, pass it to Wiseman. By doing this, your opponent will be forced to either guard all three of your attacks, or allow you to draw with Maiden of Libra. You could split the trigger, putting the power on Libra and the critical to your other rearguard, but this is incorporating a tradeoff that I would advise against. It makes you even more likely to get your draw, but you’ve allowed your opponent to keep 5k that he would otherwise have to use or lose the game.
What changes about this situation if your opponent is only at 3 damage? Granted, he can allow a critical 2 attack to land, but he’ll still avoid it if possible. This takes a little more forethought, but you can still manage to get some leverage on your opponent. If you attack with Sakuya first and don’t get a trigger, then your opponent will just block Libra and let your Wiseman hit. However, if you attack with Wiseman first, your opponent will most likely guard it so that he can allow Sakuya to hit instead (he can afford the chance of your vanguard critting in exchange for saving guardpower). Then if Sakuya does not drive check a critical trigger, you are left to attack with your Maiden of Libra. At this point, your opponent will either allow you to draw when Libra hits, or else guard and leave himself at 4 damage, at which point you will be able to use the attack setup I mentioned earlier.
I must take some time to talk about vanguard-circle-only pressure skills of grade 3 units, because these must be treated differently than those that can work from rearguard circles. Many powerful units, ranging from Stern Blaukluger and CEO Amaterasu to Dragonic Overlord the End possess pressure skills, and it takes a skilled player to use them well. Recognize that as your vanguard should virtually always be attacking the opponent’s vanguard, you have a small window of opportunity for these skills to be used. While within this window, these skills exert tremendous pressure as your opponent will often spend lots of guard to keep your effect from activating (especially Stern’s and The End’s). When running these units, attempting an early rush with grade 1s at the start of the game may be counterproductive; just like always, you risk losing those grade 1s next turn, but in addition you also increase the likelihood that by the time you ride your grade 3, your opponent will already need to block your vanguard’s attacks. Instead, use your rearguard attacks to pick off other rearguards, especially if your unit isn’t boosted and it’s only 5k to block anyways. If the vanguard’s skill is worth it, you may attempt to attack a rearguard with your vanguard to activate the skill (although some units like Stern don’t have that option), especially if doing so hits a magic number. This is typically the strategy used by Megablasters like Amaterasu or Mr. Invincible, since their skill becomes live so late in the game. Even then, your best chance of getting a Megablast to activate is if your opponent forgot about it (yes, I’ve seen someone scratch his head and couldn’t figure out for the life of him why his opponent’s Mr. Invincible was attacking a rearguard and let it pass), and you can play to keep him from remembering. Look for a significant target, like a Silent Tom or an especial interceptor, and attack it with a weak rearguard, implicating that you want to remove that unit. If your opponent thinks your vanguard is attacking his Silent Tom or Nightmare Doll Alice because you just really want to get rid of it, he’ll be less likely to consider the Megablast (I’ve succeeded with this tactic many times myself).
Even when you have them accessible, you do not want to be trying to use pressure skills all the time. Your ultimate goal is to win the game, not activate your skills. If your opponent is at 5 damage, your standard procedure should be to aim all attacks at the vanguard. That said, you should still look for opportunities to use pressure skills to your advantage. The 19,000 attack Alice I mentioned earlier can make your opponent pay dearly without ever actually swapping with the soul, and will likely attract some of your opponent’s attacks. If that occurs mid-game, when your opponent’s defenses have not crumbled substantially yet, you could even consider allowing Alice to be retired; that distracted your opponent from attacking your vanguard and saved yourself precious shieldpower.
I have not been able to cover every situation you will encounter, nor will reading this article alone enable you to spot every opportunity in your games. However, I hope this has made you more aware of the possibilities and encouraged you to practice critical thinking as you attempt to superior call with Player of the Holy Bow, Viviane or stand a unit with Gold Rutile.