Reasons why good cards are good – Vol. 2: Compression

Warning: there will be almost no maths in this post. I hate maths.

Today’s topic is kind of an elephant in the small room that is WS, so it needs to be gotten out of the way, and fast. Many people only vaguely understand what compression is, and therefore cannot judge the importance of it. A somewhat smaller group actually understand what it is, but either over- or undervalue it by a bit. And then, there are the good players who understand what it is, and will either hugely undervalue it, or hugely overvalue it. As someone who mostly falls into the latter category, I’ll be writing a bit about what it is, how to best achieve it, and how much faith you can put in it before your dreams are crushed (and believe me, if you play this game long enough, they will be crushed). Ready to lose all faith in probability?

To understand what compression is, one has to understand the nature of WS. Weiss Schwarz is a game about playing the odds. Some refer to it as a luck-based game, and dismiss it on those grounds. They’re not entirely wrong, but that train of logic doesn’t quite reach the station. WS is, indeed, a luck-based game. However, it is a game where the primary element of luck – the next cards in your deck – are assessed so frequently and in such quantity that it puts most other ‘luck-based’ card games to shame.

Think of it like this. If your goal is to flip heads 3 times in a row with a fair coin, what is the best way to ensure it happens? The answer is simple – flip the coin more times. In WS, you will have many, many, many opportunities to swing a bout of bad luck into a streak of good luck, because that is simply how the game is. You draw. You clock. You draw two more. You play three attackers and attack thrice. You trigger three cards. Your opponent does the same, hitting you for 1, 2 then 1. You went through 10 cards in a single turn cycle, with nothing out of the ordinary happening. The top card of your deck will matter all the time. It is by that token that I say it is, given a suitably large sample size, a much fairer game than people give it credit for. Even with all this in mind, you will find that, with proper planning and deckbuilding, WS games are very rarely decided by what you topdeck. There is, however, one glaring exception. I am, of course, talking about the act of climax cancelling.

Climax cancelling is an extraordinarily powerful mechanic. I would even go so far as to call it well-designed. Unlike games such as Cardfight Vanguard (this is probably the only time I will mention this game on this site, ever) or ChaOS TCG, WS has a theoretically reliable measure for dealing with large figures of damage, meaning the game pace is theoretically kept at a reasonable pace, and you theoretically can’t be overwhelmed with tremendous amounts of damage all at once. Theoretically. I’ll talk about how that all goes out the window in a bit, but for now, all you need to know is that climax cancelling is good.

So, how do we get more climax cancels happening? The answer is compression. The basis of compression is simple. More climax cards and fewer non-climax cards. We can’t do anything about that from a deckbuilding perspective, but we sure as hell can from a gameplay one.

This hopefully isn’t news to you, but WS has a deck refresh mechanic, whereby your deck, upon emptying, is replaced by your shuffled discard pile. This is done because the gameplay digs through each person’s deck at such a rate that deckout is an unviable lose condition. We have to turn this to our advantage. The first part of this is ensuring that as many climaxes as possible are in the discard pile at the time of deckout. This in itself is not hard, and cards that can help with this will be covered later. The next bit is more questionable. Everything that is not in your hand, stock, field, clock, level zone, or memory at the time of deckout will become your new deck. You want to get a reasonable number of cards into those zones in order to minimise the number of non-climax cards in your discard. Let’s cover each of those.

  • Hand – I just wrote a whole damned article on advantage, go read that. Every card in your hand is a card that doesn’t go back into the deck. This might be a source of woe if you’ve drawn all your climaxes, but properly tooled decks will have ways to get rid of climaxes in hand while gaining compression or advantage through other methods. Don’t forget that you can always play your climaxes.
  • Stock – every card in your stock is one less card that goes back into your deck. A high amount of stock with minimal/no climaxes is the foundation of traditional compression decks. It’s for this reason that you want to pay out climaxes whenever possible, especially if it’s the top card of your stock. Having a field that never dies and continues to attack and trigger non-climaxes is the ideal situation for any deck, because that means you can continue attacking without needing to pay stock or cards.
  • Field – If you have a full field at the time of refresh, that’s 5 cards which won’t go in. This counts even if your cards are reversed in battle, because they don’t leave the field until the entire battle step has elapsed.
  • Clock – If you have 6 cards in your clock (that is, if you are at 0.6, 1.6 or 2.6) before refresh, then those 6 cards do not return to your deck. This can often be managed by the player (with appropriate clocking/manipulation), but in some cases you don’t have much control over this zone, so this is just a bonus compression area.
  • Level Zone – Every card counts, right? Don’t put climaxes in here. Unless you’re playing Milky Holmes.
  • Memory – This is a powerful compression mechanic, as even 3 or 4 cards in memory, combined with plentiful stock and hand, can push compression to rather frightening levels. This is a standard feature of the strongest compression decks in the game – DC Seitokai, LB Starduster, for example. However, gaining memory at a detriment – ie. losing card advantage – is generally not worth it, especially if the only benefit you get from it is a few more cards of compression.

As you can probably surmise from this, zone management is supremely important, because it is the method by which we get more climax cancels. You may have noticed that WS has more readily-available interaction between game zones than almost any other card game. A clocked card will eventually go to your discard. Properly built decks always have stock outs and discard outs. You have splashable milling sources in almost every single series. Ways to interact with your discard, deck and clock from hand are very prominent. Some series have such unfairly potent resource management that they are very likely to be hit with a restriction soon. These decks tend to be frontrunners in tournaments, because they can manage their zones incredibly well. Other series have almost nothing, and will predictably be regarded as significantly less powerful, because they will inevitably end up in more situations where you just couldn’t do anything about the two climaxes in your hand.

That was a lot of words. Have another gif.

don't worry guys, ill post saltworthy stuff soon

Don’t worry guys, I’ll post saltworthy stuff soon

The long and short of it: Get more climaxes and fewer non-climaxes into your bin before refresh. You’ll cancel more. Usually. If you’re in dire need of numbers, 9thcx is another site that does WS stuff now and then, and they put up a nice shiny graph that I’m going to credit them for with the words you are reading right now, then link it. Source post here. That’s all you’re getting, and I’m about to explain why.

In WS, the probability of most plays you make will ultimately fall between the ranges of 30% and 70%, which means there is still plenty of percentage where you won’t get the probable outcome, especially given how often probability is assessed in this game. There are comparatively few situations where probabilities fall outside of this range, and you can usually detect those situations with a mixture of awareness, experience and common sense.

For example, your opponent refreshed to 27 cards and 8 climaxes, taking a lv0 as refresh damage. You swing for 4. The theoretical chance of that going through are easily worked out with a calculator and some time, and comes out as just over 20%. You knew that, though. You knew it was relatively unlikely just by looking at the numbers 4, 26 and 8. You also know that it is perfectly possible for the 4 damage to stick, and if it does you are in a great position. But it probably won’t. For people not looking to completely maximise their game, it is not a big deal to know the exact numbers, and asking your opponent for a deck count and binned-climax count is generally enough to get a good idea of how to attack. I’m certain some of you will disagree, but I don’t think maths is nearly as important as awareness and experience. If you are at the level where you fully expect to compete at worlds by reliably winning nationals in a game with as much variance as WS, then yes, then you can start doing the math.

That leads nicely into the counterarguments of ‘compression is a lie’. It often is. However, this only comes from people expecting too much of compression. That’s just how probability works. Have you ever played Pokemon? Stupid question, everybody’s played Pokemon. How many times have you missed with Thunder or Blizzard? What about Fire Blast? 70% and 85% are not infallible. Hell, they’re not even reliable. You can compress to an exceptional degree, with 50%+ chances to cancel every single hit, and still eat a couple attacks. You can have a 90+% chance to cancel a swing for 5, and you’ll occasionally eat the 5. It’s a scientific fact that the likelihood of eating improbable 5s increases proportionally to how confident you are in not eating the improbable 5. You are assessed on luck so frequently in this game, that you will eventually hit bad luck at crucial junctures. This is a matter of when, not if. That’s just how it goes. That’s just how all cardgames go. Being land-flooded or mana screwed happens. Drawing dead on Supporters happens.

In your WS career, you are going to have times where you take improbable amounts of damage and lose the game terribly. You are going to have times where you take improbable amounts of damage, and then proceed to win. And, the most absurd scenario of all – you are even going to have times when probability works out exactly as it should. You take these risks and live on these thrills. This is part of why you play card games.

That’s not all. Compression isn’t merely unimportant at times. It can backfire horribly. The better your compression, the worse the punishment is when things don’t go your way. Taking climaxes as refresh damage often isn’t merely a sign of bad luck, it is also a sign of good compression. The better your compression ratio is, the higher the likelihood of a climax being on top will be. If you fail to cancel multiple hits, the climax to non-climax ratio climbs ever higher, meaning those cards will generally go into your hand or become triggered as stock. This can happen even when you do cancel multiple hits. You can’t just sit and pass until you cancel, either – being proactive and taking potshots is how you generally win your games.

Compression merely tips the odds in your favour. It does not rig the game. It does not provide you with answers to win the game with, and it is most certainly not fail-safe. You can make all the right plays, compress to a theoretically acceptable degree, and then proceed to eat 4, cancel 1, then eat another 3. It is easy to dismiss it on the basis of it just not having effect at times. At the same time, however, it is the skill which divides the average players from the great ones. Maximising the chance for a mechanic as strong as climax cancelling is akin to playing 4 of a staple in your deck, or playing tutors for your staples. You are not guaranteeing anything, but you are tipping the odds in your favour. Once you start compressing properly, you will start winning games you may not have won otherwise, and you probably won’t notice it at all. It is an indispensible element of WS, and you do yourselves no favours by completely (or even partially) disregarding it.

Now, these are examples of cards that help you compress and manage your field zones (these two terms are honestly pretty close to each other).

lucy

This Lucy is a valuable searcher that also fuels Fairy Tail’s memory engine. Look at the cost. You pay one stock, discard one card, and send this card to memory. Then, you search out one character from your deck. Think about all the ways this card interacts with zones. You pay stock for it. The cost is on reverse, so you do not have much control over it, but you are often happy to pay it anyway. You discard a card from hand. This may well be a climax card. Then, you send this card to memory. Instead of going to discard and becoming a potential topdeck the second time around, it removes itself from the game. But that’s not all. You search your deck for a character. This has both good and bad connotations, but basically, you get rid of one character from your deck, and therefore eliminate the chance to draw it or take it as damage. This particular bit gets better and better as your compression ratio becomes better. This card’s contribution of compression perfectly sums up what you want compression to be – a subtle benefit that comes about from what you are trying to do anyway.

midori mio

Midori and Mio, cards that veterans will look at with unbridled disgust. This was (and still is) one of the best memory engines in any deck, ever, and was a pivotal part of Little Busters’ notoriety as the deck that never dies. While the times have changed, the principles behind this duo haven’t shifted much. Midori is a 1-cost Bond for Mio, which is good for hand advantage, and also a potential stock outlet for compression’s sake. Even if you aren’t paying out a climax, you break even in the short term, since you take Mio back into your hand, which removes her from the refresh pool. This is true of all Bond and 1-cost salvage mechanics. However, Mio goes even further. If Midori is on the field when Mio is reversed, she usually goes straight to memory, removing her from the reshuffle pool permanently. There are ways to get around this, but I just want to stress that Midori is essentially removing a card from the reshuffle pool permanently at no additional cost, rather than merely being an advantage play. This has its ups and downs, but it is, in my opinion, a definite plus.

maid mio

I’m trying to keep some series diversity here, but Maid Mio is not a card that can be ignored. I considered using Laharl as the example, but I want to talk a bit more about the advantages of removing cards from your current deck. I could have used Nadeko, but I’m also trying to stick to playable cards. Yes, shots fired.

Anyway, Maid Mio is an example of a card that provides better compression immediately, rather than upon the next refresh. Like the Lucy above, she pulls cards from the deck, giving you a better compression ratio immediately. If you don’t trigger two or three climaxes during that attack phase, you have a significantly higher chance of cancelling multiple attacks on your opponent’s turn, simply because you pulled cards out of the deck immediately. At the same time, she also goes to memory herself. This helps with the next cycle of compression.

I also want to stress that healing damage will, more often than not, decompress your deck. You pay two stock, neither of which is necessarily a climax, then you put the top card of your clock (another compression zone) into your discard, eventuating in a possible 3-card loss to your compression ratio. This is superseded by the fact that healing improves immediate survivability. One of the major reasons Maid Mio is so fantastic is because it (generally) improves immediate survivability via both healing and compression, AND helps compress the next cycle to some degree.

marika

Marika is a Nisekoi lv0 which (rightly) sees play in most builds. Her abilities seem very straightforward – sneak a peek at your topdeck, and possibly salvage a character by dropping a climax. Let’s talk about those, shall we? Looking at the topdeck does multiple things. It lets you confirm that your next card is a character, and dump it if it’s a climax. Bacalhau This is an indirect compression aid – you can attack to charge that character as stock or take that character as clock damage, rather than blindly praying it isn’t a climax. Next, the topdeck check can be used as a raw mill effect, removing one card from your deck. This is helpful lategame to achieve a slightly better compression ratio. Lastly, it can dump a character to be used in another compression play – for example, the other one listed on the card. Drop a climax, grab a character. Simple card exchanging that has value for compression. An elegant card for compression and utility purposes.

shiroe

Shiroe is a good support in both his lv0 and lv3 forms, but we’ll be talking about the lv0 here. This card is what we term a ‘Brainstorm’, vaguely derived from the MtG card of the same name. Please keep in mind that MtG’s Brainstorm and WS’s Brainstorm effects are miles apart, and that most WS Brainstorm effects are more akin to something like Forbidden Alchemy. The effect of any Brainstorm is essentially to mill the top X cards of your deck into your discard (usually 4, though 3 and 2 versions exist). Each climax milled in these X cards will bestow an effect. Shiroe is one of the more generic ones, drawing you a card per climax milled, and is arguably one of the weaker Brainstorms for compressive purposes. You’ll also notice that Shiroe requires that you tap it, meaning you only get one use of him per turn (barring extenuating circumstances). Other Brainstorms have unlimited uses per turn, so long as you can pay the cost.

The reasoning behind use of a Brainstorm is twofold. The first is to garner Transformation the effects given by it. This is usually either a play for card advantage, though there are many other types of Brainstorm. The second reason is for the sake of milling. Just like in any other TCG, the discard pile can be considered a resource pool, so that’s one element of a Brainstorm’s functionality. However, if you’ve paid any amount of attention to the too-many-words that have come before this paragraph, you should be thinking about how this influences compression (because why else would it be listed here?).

If you know you have an absolutely awful compression ratio in your current deck, Brainstorming can save you a lot of damage. For example, 8 cards and one climax? Brainstorm and swing three times, and you’ll turn that pile of damage into a new lease on life. If your climax was in that top 4, you even get to draw a card, giving you slightly better compression the next time around. It helps out in other situations, too. If you have 6 cards left, with 3 climaxes in there, dump those cards into the bin, trigger fewer climaxes, and gain some advantage from it while you’re at it. You do lose the stock cost from your compression, but balancing advantageous effects and compression is one of the many evaluative skills you need in WS. I don’t want to talk about Brainstorming too much since it’s worth a blogpost on its own, but it’s definitely a strong ability that can be turned into a compression aid.

zwei

Zwei here is totally different type of compressor, and is a pivotal part in Phantom’s sudden rise to the big leagues. Rather than using the compression zones we’ve come to know and love, he introduces a completely new compression zone: markers. I use Zwei as the example because he can confirm what is going under him, whereas other examples cannot. Each time he kills something, he picks up a <Weapon> card from your discard and shoves it under himself. As long as Zwei isn’t unceremoniously removed, those cards will stay there as you refresh, giving excellent compression comparable to a memory mechanic. Not only that, but Zwei becomes bigger and bigger himself, giving you an attacker who will be charging stock more or less every turn, adding to your compression.

The problem with these constructed compression zones is that they are fragile. Kill the character and all the compression is lost at the end of the turn. If you manage to keep it on the field until the turn you refresh, though, you’ll have gotten the benefits of the compression for the next cycle anyway.

new year kiss

New Year’s Kiss is a Da Capo 3 event that received a fair amount of attention when it first came out. DC is the most memory-reliant series in the game, and this card really helps contribute to that. Earlier, we saw how 1/0 Mio was a card that usually circumvented the discard, but even she pales in comparison to this event. Not only do you gain a character from discard (removing it from the refresh pool), but you also put TWO cards in memory – the one you just played, and another copy of the event, if applicable. It does cost one stock to perform, but if that stock is a climax, then this becomes a play which contributes zero non-climax cards to your next refresh, while removing potentially 3 cards from said refresh pool. That’s a lot. A huge lot. There’s a reason why DC Seitokai decks sit at the top of the tree when it comes to compressive power.

Elephant slain. Compression is a vague, floaty concept that lets you down a lot, but hopefully there’s been some light shed on why it is relevant, why it is worth keeping in mind, and why it is often less reliable than your average drunk driver. Don’t worry, that’s the last wall of theory for awhile, and thank god for that.

About lycheepunnet

the victim in an abusive relationship with cardboard
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