Welcome to this new series all about game design, specifically that of Yu-Gi-Oh!. Compared to other popular flavors like Magic the Gathering, Pokemon's card game, and Cardfight Vanguard, the strategy of the game is pretty complex. My goal with this is to look over some aspect of the game, new cards, and the like from a game design perspective. I'm aiming to answer questions like "How will this design choice affect the game?", "Does this work thematically for the card?", and "Will this card/series of cards even see play, and if not what do they need?"
Going into this article, you'll need a basic understanding of the rules to the game - how the different kinds of summons work, how chains work, the card types, etc.
Today I'm looking at a recently revealed group of cards from the announced booster set, Deck Build Pack: Dark Savers called the Skyfang Brigade. Thematically, a rag-tag group of sky-pirates who look like they'd fit the Sonic the Hedgehog universe much more than Yu-Gi-Oh!'s.
Monsters [Level 4 and Lower]
The level 4-and lower monsters all share the following effect[s]:
"During your Main Phase: You can Special Summon 1 "Skyfang Brigade" monster from your hand, except [another card with the same name as this one]"
As well as... "If another "Skyfang Brigade" monster(s) is Special Summoned to your field while this monster is on the field [insert additional effect here] "
These effects are both hard once-per-turn, so you can't cheat out additional uses with multiple copies. The good news is that their second effects can be triggered during either players' turn. Also keep in mind that their first effect is something you can do whenever during the Main Phase, rather than being forced into activating it on the summon.
From Left to Right, we have Recon the Skyscout, Donpa the Marksman, Beat the Swordsman, and Blavo the Fighter.
Upon summoning an ally, Recon destroys a Set card, Donpa destroys a face-up card, Beat adds another Skyfang [other than itself] from your deck to your hand, and Blavo pumps up all Skyfangs on your field by 500 ATK point until the end of the turn.
Their effects aren't extremely special or unique, but are simplistic enough so that a newer player can quickly build a strategy. The real challenge I see with the deck is building a deck consistent enough that it doesn't become a gimmick.
Small Guy Support
The three cards I have above are all frequently used in decks that revolve around that specific type/attribute of monster - Obedience Schooled for Beasts [Donpa and Recon], Reinforcement of the Army for Warriors [Beat], and Rekindling for FIRE monsters [Blavo] who have the recent trend of having 200 DEF points. What's their purpose here? These can grab resources from the deck or graveyard for almost no cost, but unfortunately only grab specific resources.
While Schooled would require playing a third, non-Skyfang beast monster [unless another one gets revealed], it allows for quick swarming for Recon and Donpa. This then triggers the "whenever a Skyfang is summoned" effect. The same idea for Blavo can be applied, but using Rekindling to summon it from the graveyard instead of from the deck. Beat, while not having a card to summon itself for free, can be easily searched and utilized with Reinforcement. While these are all good cards on their own, sticking them together all in one deck presents an issue of breaking consistency. If anything, I would only add the one allowed copy of Reinforcements, solely because it it doesn't require any kind of setup, or hampers any of the plays I would make on the following turns.
Monsters [Level 5 and Higher]
The level-5 and higher monsters share a common effect of doing something when Special Summoned [allowing for mini combinations between any of the low-leveled members and a large member]. These effects vary in usefulness based on the number of other Skyfang Brigade monsters with different names you control.
From Left to Right, we have Sajita, Solitary; Wiz, Sage; and Lafarl; Hero.
Sajita deals 500 damage per other Skyfang. Wiz increases your LP by 500 per other Skyfang. Lafarl excavates the top card of your deck per other Skyfang you control, and adds a Skyfang Brigade monster amongst those cards to your hand. Other excavated cards are shuffled back into the deck. Each of these effects is a hard once-per-turn, so no crazy loops to abuse them with.
These monsters also have secondary protective effects. Sajita prevents Skyfang Brigade monsters besides itself from being targeted by card effects. Wiz and Lafarl can negate an opponents' Spell/Trap card/effect or Monster effect respectively by discarding a Skyfang Brigade card once per turn.
Overall, these are some pretty nice effects. The best on-summon effect is definitely Lafarl's, since it can refuel your hand with resources. The burn and healing are only useful in niche cases, comparatively. Unfortunately, only grabbing one is limiting, considering the deck's constant need of new recruits can leave you without resources should you decide to go all-in. The once-per-turn restriction on the negates is a little irritating, but having the negates allow for solid protection and skillful play for "what to negate".
The problem once again is the varying levels, types, and attributes for these monsters. Sajita probably gets the worst situation out of the three - level 5, WIND, and Winged-Beast monsters all together have very low generic support cards. Putting all of those qualities on one monster means that there's not much that can bring it out.
As for Wiz and Lafarl, they definitely get it better because of their types and levels. Lafarl especially gets nice treatment due to the years of previous Dragon, Level 8, and LIGHT monster support. Trade-In can refill a hand, and Return of the Dragon Lords can summon Lafarl straight from the graveyard to then trigger its' effect.
Wiz does have some good cards as well that support Level 7 and WATER monsters. However, the only card I see that would work well in this group of monsters is Sacred Sword of Seven Stars, which can banish Wiz from the hand or field to draw more cards from the deck.
However, the problem remains that due to the huge variance in stats, it's hard to really bring in anything other than general support - cards like Soul Charge for mass resurrections and effect triggers or Pot of Desires to draw cards. Both of these cards have very large costs [a large sum of life points and no battle phase, or removing the top 10 cards of your deck respectively] to gain their effects, so their benefit could potentially be harmful.
As of current, there's only been two revealed Spell and/or Trap cards for the series - a Field Spell card, and a Continuous Trap Card.
Their Field Spell, Dragon Airship - Fandra, works slightly differently compared to other field spells released as of late. Rather than searching the deck for a monster upon activation, it searches a monster in exchange for giving up your normal draw phase. Additionally, if you have 5 or more Skyfang Brigade monsters on your field, you can send Fandra to the graveyard to destroy all cards you opponent controls. The downside is that they don't take any damage for the rest of the turn.
Meanwhile, their Continuous Trap card, Skyfang Brigade Training, lets you summon a Skyfang monster from your deck with a lower level than a Skyfang that was just destroyed by battle or by card effect. This is a once-per-turn effect.
So first, the upsides with these two cards. Fandra gives a consistent method of searching out more Skyfang monsters, and Training allows for even faster access by grabbing them from the deck. Even better, their special summoning effects trigger upon being brought out by the trap card. Coming from the deck rather than the hand or graveyard is also useful because it improves the consistency of later turns.
Now for the bad sides. Fandra only giving the search on the draw phase means you have to wait two turns [the turn you play it and your opponents' next turn] before benefiting from the effect. Furthermore, immediate access is always better than having to give up your normal draw for it. The normal draw could grab you a useful Spell/Trap card or a more common monster like Maxx "C" or Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring. Instead, you have to specifically take a Skyfang monster. The fact that it can't search Training or future Spells/Traps is a major downside.
The destruction effect is nice, but requires committing a large amount of resources to your field in order to activate the effect. Also, if you're removing all of your opponents' on-field resources, you're likely doing so with the intent of defeating them on that turn - why would you want to wait until your next turn when they can potentially make a comeback?
Despite the downsides, you probably still need to run three Fandra because of the lack of any other searching in the archetype outside of Beat.
As for the Trap, it's inherently slower because it's a Trap card. It requires a turn to be set on the field, and then sprung later. While that's just a problem inherent to the card type, recent trap cards like Evenly Matched or Infinite Transcience can be activated from the hand by fulfilling certain requirements. Training could have been a Spell card and fulfilled a better purpose. [Matched and Transcience can be played from hand if you control no cards]
Training's summon effect isn't awful, but it's two limiting factors are very limiting. Admittedly, if you could get a smaller Skyfang destroyed and just summon a Lafarl or Wiz straight from the deck, that would admittedly be a little overpowered. Additionally, being able to get this effect more than once a turn would be too strong, solely for the special summon triggers that would activate as a result. Unfortunately, the card in its' current state feels just underpowered enough that it isn't worth running more than 1 or 2 of it in a deck. The summons are nice, but the level and once-per-turn limitations are too many down-sides.
With all of that information out of the way, time to talk about the overall picture for the archetype, from the designer perspective.
Does this work thematically for the series?
The cards work well thematically - pirates that call upon their allies from below the deck or from the masts to aid them. The only thing thematically that confuses me is why their additional effects only occur upon Special Summoning or "seeing" a Special Summoning [doing something when another gets special summoned]. Does it give them a morale boost to then unleash their specific power? Does it unleash something that was currently being inhibited? The cards wouldn't be explaining this via text since design-wise, there's simply no room for flavor on non-Normal Monster cards. So we look to the card art, and unfortunately nothing really shows why these additional abilities get utilized. My only assumption is that for the level 5 or higher monsters, being special summoned means being called upon for help, and therefore they perform some action that helps their comrades. Additionally, the flavor of sending Fandra to the graveyard implies they're just ramming their flagship into the opponent, which is pretty funny.
Types and levels-wise, it makes sense that everything is some magnitude of "different " from each other. It's a rag tag group of pirates who all came together under one banner - the Skyfang Brigade.
How will these design choices overall affect the game?
Skyfang Brigades are what I would see as a more casual archetype. While a well-built version of the deck could easily surprise a tournament, none of their effects are particularly powerful. They're good, but not crazy or overpowered. If their effects weren't limited to being once-per-turn, then I think it would be justifiable to call for immediate action from Konami when these cards are released.
There's no viable argument whose point is "This archetype lacks synergy among itself". Even their worst cards synergize with the rest of the archetype, but they require an immense game sense to play well. If you burn through your resources, you don't have many ways of searching on demand for the exact monster you need. Their main searcher, the field spell, only searches in exchange for your draw phase. This leads to a very impactful decision that could potentially swing games in or out of your favor should you choose incorrectly. While this is good from a design point of view, it's probably not that great of a feeling to give up a draw to dig for the one monster that can lead to a win should the effect not be negated.
The current meta-game revolves around negating your opponents' critical actions with cards like Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit and Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring; deleting resources and committed fields with Struggling Battle; removing giant threats with the Kaiju monsters; or creating fields of monsters whose effects are just better than yours because they inhibit future actions. With the cards currently revealed, I don't think they have an "in-house" way of coping with these threats without resorting to "staple" cards [the aforementioned Kaijus, Ash Blossom, etc.]
What do they need?
More in-house ways to special summon and/or search. The main problem I see with Skyfangs is their inability to get required resources when they're needed, or an inability to summon those resources. Ending with useless cards in hand does NOT feel good for the player. So instead, give them some kind of tool that can discard Skyfangs in exchange for draw power, or being able to summon Skyfangs from the graveyard. Additionally, make a way to search for any Skyfang card [assuming they get better Spells/Traps].
Honestly, everything with the archetype is at minimum passable, and at best not that bad. The current problem is that the archetype doesn't make great strides to being extremely powerful. Their effects are good, but only really come into play on your turn rather than the opponents. The lack of disruption really hurts the deck, since it doesn't the resources to continue off of a strong start. Additionally, their bigger monsters can clog up a hand, proving useless until they can be brought out by something. If the deck can fix these resource problems, it will be in a much better position.
Those are my thoughts about these cards. If you've made it this far, I really appreciate it! If you have feedback or comments you'd like to share, please don't hesitate to remark down below!