Level Up! – The Contested Level, Level 1

Maki

Welcome back to Level Up!, 9th CX’s intermediate strategy column!

This time, we are going to be delving into perhaps the most contested level of Weiss Schwarz, level 1. This article and analysis are brought to you by Michael, Melanie, Johnny, Felix, and Clinton.

Same disclaimer as last time: If we missed something or if you see something that we might add, let us know! This topic is not easy.


In Weiss Schwarz, level 1 is a very turbulent point of the game. There are not very many quality generalizations to make about the level itself because, level 1 is where the game starts to take off for many decks.

Melanie has some points about the history of level 1 in decks.

Melanie: 

Originally, the concept of dual laning, or, matching, prevailed in the early game. Players in the JP game used to either match their opponent’s field one for one, or would play just one more character to bait out a response from the opponent, in the form of another character. This was done in an attempt to preserve the “Triangle effect”; which states that cards in hand translates to having characters. Characters deal damage and build stock to pay for higher level abilities and characters, which goes back to refilling, or “plussing” the hand.

Now, as the game progressed, the idea of pushing for more damage began to creep up.

Michael:

In other words, the game began to tilt in favor of more aggressive strategies.

Melanie:

Some have suggested that this happened due to the introduction of the EN game, but that isn’t exactly provable. But soon, level 1 became the time for players to begin committing to a full board to push for damage to end the game.

As decks began to commit more to filling up the board at level 1, something was needed to refill the hand. At first, this was done by running CX triggers (book + door, or even 8 door). Sets such as Rewrite would use 8 door triggers and salvage CX combos to sustain their damage. Cards would eventually move to provide a way to sustain the hand through cards outside of CX triggers.

Remember Asuna Invites to Party?

sao_s20_001

The CX combo, at the time of its release, was quite popular (and in EN, is still). Attack, pay 1 stock and tutor for any character? It’s the dream for many decks!

This was all quite good for a while until the Fire Nation attacked until KanColle was printed. Kantai introduced some unprecedented mechanics (easy-to-access heal tax, anti-salvage, etc), but among the biggest was Shimakaze.

kc_s25_003

The condition to search for a character was needing to reverse a character in battle, but she did it for free. Nisekoi would follow with a similar combo, but would without the benefit of thinning the deck.

WS_NK_W30_E056R

The game has evolved significantly over the past few years, to the point where some older decks struggle bitterly to maintain their “triangle” if they do not have a reliable way to keep up at level 1. The strongest variants are those that trigger from reversing opponents in battle, and they include searching, salvaging, and milling up to 4 cards to look for a character.


So, now we have some context on how level 1 has looked and where it has gone over the years.

But what can we learn from this history to see how to build a deck’s level 1 game?

There are a few things we can take away at the macro level.

First, a less stock-intensive level 1 means that a deck can afford a more expensive level 3, and possibly a more expensive level 2.

Second, it helps to include a card advantage engine, be it in the form of CX triggers, CX combos, or events. (Generally, cards at level 1 do not have a lot in the way of providing card advantage on their own outside of combos)

Let’s go to Johnny for his approach:

Johnny:

To me, level 1 is the most important level, next to level 3. You can usually tell how good a (new) set is by those 2 levels. Usually, when I build my level 1 game for any set, I look at the costless level 1 characters. 1/0s are important because they build stock from the turn they’re played. (1/1 characters take a full extra turn to become stock-positive)

Next, I add any advantage engine the set has, whether the cards involved cost 0 or 1 stock. Speaking of 1/1s though, I sometimes include 2-3 1/1 characters, but it comes down to how good they are. I like to add them because decks sometimes just need to pay out stock to dislodge CXs in stock, etc. In addition, they tend to have higher power, which 1/0 characters typically have difficulty going over in battle.

Lastly, I look for backup effects. If a set has a 0-stock +2000 power backup or a 1-stock +3500 backup/event, I consider them.

Felix with the tl;dr:

  • Shimakaze combo? ☑
  • Stronk beater? ☑
  • Good utility? ☑

Johnny:

Which brings me to the types of level 1 characters we tend to see:

  • Advantage combo level 1
    • Combo with a CX to search or salvage
  • Assassins
    • Get +X power on play, and can get over most other characters during the turn they’re played
  • Level reversers
    • Formerly used to match other level 1s, but now are used for utility beyond their reversing ability
  • Clock encore beaters
    • Typically 6000 power at 1/0, and 7500 power at 1/1
  • Anti-level backups
    • Included in some sets at level 1 (e.g. Marika, Nisekoi; Nico, Love Live!)
  • Backups
    • Typically 1500-2000 power at 1/0, 2000-2500+ at 1/1

We have a general lay of the land now for level 1, but as many players know, the JP game and the EN game are (or can be) very different animals. This is where we have the reigning World Champion chime in:

Clinton:

The success of one’s level 1 game goes a long way in determining how the rest of the game will pan out. As said before, level 1 is only rivaled by level 3 in terms of importance, and that’s only because the game is over after someone gets pushed out of level 3.

The EN metagame is currently dominated by 3 strategies at level 1.

  1. CX combo card advantage (e.g. SAO, Nisekoi, Kantai, [email protected])
  2. Power (e.g. Angel Beats, Attack on Titan, Project Diva [Miku])
  3. Efficiency (e.g. Love Live!, Kill La Kill, Madoka)

Level 1 CX combo decks use their combos to setup for future turns. Those that focus on power aim to exhaust opponents early on and deny CX combos from going off, because many combos rely on reversing opponents. The last group of decks simply try to get as much mileage out of as few cards as possible to sustain a longer endgame.

Card advantage decks are usually the most commonly played. For a while, those focused on efficiency were popular despite the presence of power or “wall” decks. That is of course, until AoT was released, and the wall more or less came down on the meta, and it became the premier deck to beat.

More specifically on AoT, I consider the Corps build with Sasha + Mikasa at level 1 to be the best build, as the pair completely stonewalls most card advantage decks.

Michael:

From this, we can draw some rock-paper-scissors-like comparisons in what happens at level 1.

Power beats CX combos and efficiency, but only early on. It falls off in the late game, but spikes highest in the early game.

CX combos can beat efficiency at any stage of the game, but have to rely on opportunities in the face of facing power/wall decks. It improves the late game, but spikes in terms of opportunity near level 0.

Efficiency is essentially a surrender to both CX combos and walls for the promise of a heavier and ideally superior endgame. It improves the late game, but its upsides are not seen until later in the game.

Here’s a very crude graph to illustrate where we see the level 1 games go for each type:

Crude Graph to Explain Level 1

But of course, this graph is sorely limited, because it doesn’t illustrate for us how these types might interact with one another. To get more accurate data for interactivity though, we would need to delve into an individual set, look at its potential layouts for level 1, and then compare that against many other level 1 setups to determine its viability.

Now, Clinton just gave us a good example of how a player in EN would want to check their level 1 game; taking a popular and powerful combination of cards and using it as a standard. His advice for EN players is to use AoT’s level 1 game as a litmus test to see if a deck is viable. Basically: Can’t beat AoT’s level 1 game? Consider other options.

In the JP side of the game though, where things are much more diverse, it can be difficult to pin down a reliable standard. Eventually, there will (probably) be so many sets in the EN game that it will also become just as difficult. So in the face of overwhelming options, what’s a deckbuilder to do?

Here’s a breakdown of recommended steps:

  • Identify
    • ID the potential level 1 game combinations from a set
    • Look for the CX combo engine, and/or walls, and/or efficient characters
  • Choose
    • Pair the level 1 combination with a particular endgame (to be discussed in a future article)
  • Test
    • Put the deck to work! Get in some games, ideally against proven lists
  • Evaluate
    • After testing is done, compile observations from your games, such as what worked well, and what did not work as well. Make the observations discrete, as there will be some that will be made in the context of the specific matchup tested, and others that can happen outside context
      • For example, “This character could never get over that potato” is a potential example of a context-biased observation, because it only points out a specific character that couldn’t be beaten
      • “This character could never go over 9000” is a better observation, because the actual number is being addressed, rather than a specific card; it’s more applicable because it covers more potential ground
  • Modify
    • If too many negatives or downsides are observed during testing, switch to another setup – remove the old, try the new

Good luck!


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