Friday, April 18, 2008

Kongai: Ambrosia Thorn (v1.5)

As I mentioned yesterday, the challenge card this week is Ambrosia Thorn. If she'd been released last week, I would have been disappointed and ready to complain about the glut of character cards we've been getting lately without the item releases to support them (Seriously, at the moment I have 7 character cards and 14 items, 2 of which are duplicated. To the best of my knowledge, I've pretty much gotten every challenge card since the new year. I have 4 of the 5 Ninja purple cards - only one of whom is a starter - but absolutely no purple bordered items. I have all five brown bordered items but only one Village mud card to slot them on. Plenty of Amazon items have been released lately which is great because they're awesome - but I don't have a single Amazon. Remind me to rant about it later but the current card release system isn't going to work past release for very long - not the least because the schedule is so arbitrary.) But the card we get this week is the brand new Ambrosia Thorn fresh from a revamp. One that transformed the Blood Worshiper from a middling card at best to an extremely effective opponent.

And that change was one single thing: Her old buff, Blood Ritual, which took away her physical resist to add 10 dark resist (Giving her first 0/1/15. It could be stacked, though, so you could make that value ridiculous.) was removed. And in her place she gained a debuff - also named Bleeding Ritual - which causes the opponent to bleed and take damage over time. The key to that new skill, though, and the reason why it makes her bar pop is that it works from range.

Formerly, like Ashi and Onimaru and Helene and...Le Morte and...yeah, there are a lot of these kind of cards... Ambrosia was a close-only character. All of her attacks only worked up in close. As anyone who has played the game will tell you that means you'd spend a lot of time working to get in range and then hoping you had enough energy to attack while your opponent constantly tries to shift away. As one of the more poorly defended close-only bangers Ambrosia couldn't really stand up to a lot of punishment while doing so. And with her expensive skills she often had energy problems when you did manage to get her in range.

In the right situations she was deadly effective but, now, with a ranged attack an opponent can't play the keep-away game with her without taking a lot of pain. At the same time, Thorn can step back herself and play the DOT game instead of trying to go toe-to-toe with other close-onlies - while still having some nasty damage when they step close to her. Since her main damage type is dark which most of those characters are weak against the net effect is that Ambrosia is the kind of card who should be able to tear through the heavy hitters like Ashi and Oni.

We'll get to how to do that in a little bit but, first, take a look at her card text:

Ambrosia Thorn, the Blood Worshiper

  • Necro (Black)
  • 70/100
  • 3/1/5
  • Ambrosia Thorn is immune to poison and burn effects.
  • Vamp Kiss. 40en, 3spd, 25dmg(Dark). 90hit, 100proc. Drains the life essence of the victim and heals you. Close.
  • Spectral Choke. 50en, 5spd, 10x4dmg(Dark). 100hit, 100proc. Chokes even a fleeing opponent. Close.
  • Bleeding Ritual. Bleeding Ritual. 30en, 2sp, Dark. 100hit, 100proc. Deep wounds bleed the opponent for 8 damage each turn for 3 turns (24). Both.
  • Spiked Boots. 10en, 7spd, 12dmg(Phys). 100hit, 30proc. Chance to stun the enemy for 1 turn. Close.

Her innate is a bit underwhelming. You get to avoid some DOT effects which, compared to what some other characters get isn't exactly game breaking. You'll note that Bleeding itself isn't included - this was pre-existing but it's good since it keeps a Thorn/Thorn match-up from devolving into a slap fight. There's also a bit of a bug where certain effects like Deadly Poison aren't prevented. Against some characters it's not going to do anything. But against some, like Popo or Tafari, it's really going to kneecap their damage engines. So, it's definitely useful it's just not super amazingly good like, say, Higashi or Popo's innate.

She's got 3/1/5 for resists which is pretty solid. 3 phys is above average and while it's not going to stop, say, Helene, it definitely hurts other characters. While 5 is on the high side for dark resist (I know the highest value is 10 but the median value for dark resist is 2.5. It's the most common resist but Ambrosia still has a lot of it.) which actually does give a Helen pause - at least for a turn while she buffs up with Enchant. Her health, though, is a strictly average 70. And that means she needs to rely on her life draining to stay in the fight as long as certain tank-like characters.

But it doesn't matter because the real meat to Ambrosia is in her skill bar. Which is full of nice, chewy skills that you can use to destroy an opponent.

There's her new ranged DOT, Bleeding Ritual. That causes 8 damage every turn for 3 turns for a grand total of 24 damage that ignores your opponent's resists completely. At only 30 energy you can afford to keep casting it for a while, even when you're switching ranges. You only burn 10 energy each round using it and even stepping to far on the first round to avoid a hit that's still you can still use it three times in a row (Or once, followed by Kiss when they close. And more, its low cost makes it very versatile and, as you should know by now, I always consider that useful.). It's slow acting but remember that most buffs/debuffs in this game can be stacked to the high heavens so if you opponent is foolish enough to stick around for 5 rounds, they'll soon be bleed for 72 - enough to kill most characters - and taking 16~24 damage each round. Better yet, that damage isn't going to stop if they withdraw that character from the field - DOTs keep working on a card when it's in hand - making it very, very nasty.

And, I think, that ties in nicely with another of Ambrosia's attacks which also gives her a way of destroying people who like to switch out - just in a different way. That's her big nuke-stick, Spectral Choke. It's costly at 50 energy. And it only works at close range. So, you only get one shot with it if you have to step from range, even at full energy - and that's if you're lucky and your opponent is out of enough energy to keep from burning more of yours off with a desperation push. But that's okay, because Choke is a powerful, powerful nuke. Forget that it says 10x4 damage which is a mighty 40 dark gutpunch to an unprotected foe. The bit that makes Choke so deadly is the "hits even a fleeing foe" modifier. What that means is that, normally, when your opponent switches out one of their cards if you've queued up an attack for that turn you won't carve off a chunk of their life meter, you'll suffer an embarrassing whiff and be out the energy of your useless attack instead. A skill that hits fleeing cards - and there are several out there, Andromeda, Yoshiro, and Anex have them also off the top of my head - will connect even if that card is swapping out. So, when you use Spectral Choke there's no way for the opponent to avoid it, the way they can sometimes gamble on a quick switch-dodge against other heavy attacks - it's going to hit no matter what. And it's going to hurt when it does. The only way to stop it - once Thorn is in range with enough energy - is with an interrupt which is certainly possible given its low priority but not every character packs the stun that's going to save them.

I mentioned that Ambrosia is a kind of life-draining tank earlier. Like Le Morte, her shorter health bar can be made up for by stealing away pieces of her opponent's. The way she does that is with her next skill, Vamp Kiss. For 40 energy you deal 25 dark damage and recover health equal to that amount. A recent update lowered its priority from 5 to 3 and that's - as the man says - actually a buff. Hitting later in the round means that your opponent has more time to hit you. They whack you for their damage and then your Kiss goes off, wiping most if not all of it out. With a higher speed, your Kiss might act first in which case that health wouldn't be added to your bar. What Vamp Kiss does is to extend Thorn's life even as she's hacking away at her opponent's. The average attack does 20~25 damage and while a lot of characters are going to be doing more than that, consider what happens when Ambrosia goes up against Ashi.

Let's be really reductive here and say there's no trickery like switching and range-play, no randomness from misses or critical hits, and no thinking beyond push-button mashing of each player's most favorite skill - All Ashi is goign to do is bomb away with Bleeding Slice, all Ambrosia is going to do is counter with Vamp Kiss. Now, Bleeding does 36 light damage which turns into 35 against Ambrosia. That's enough to kill Thorn in two hits. While A.Thorn's Vamp Kiss does only 24 damage against Ashi's 1 dark resist and will take 4 turns to kill her. On the surface, that looks like a race that Ambrosia is destined to lose. Even considering that the Blood Worshipper is going to be sucking up health she's still losing more than she gets back. But, because Vamp Kiss acts second what happens is that Ashi attacks, slices off 35 damage, then Ambrosia attacks, rips out 24 of her own and recovers that much herself. Ashi's attack winds up doing only 11 damage - and Ambrosia's not in any danger unless her health is low enough for the damage to spike her out before her drain goes off. At the end of the first round the health picture is 56Ashi/59Ambrosia. After two it's 32/48. By the end of the four rounds it's going to take to polish Ashi off Ambrosia is going to be limping with only 26 health - and likely suffering several Bleeding DOTs given that the Slice should proc a 9 over 3 bleed every other hit, on average - but Ashi is going to be stone-cold dead so it's not actually a losing match-up for Torn. And, remember, she has skills that can crank out a lot more damage than Vamp Kiss, too.

Her final skill, Spiked Boots, might seem underwhelming. It's a 10 energy skill that deals a paltry 12 physical damage, after all. But, personally, I think it's incredibly useful. It is, after all, Ambrosia's Open Palm. You don't care about the damage here, what you do care about is the 30% chance to stun your opponent for a full round. With a high priority of 7, stomping on someone with your boots can push someone over the edge with that last little bit of damage but it might also just save you by stunning them before they can get their lick in. It's a risky move but at 10 energy, sometimes it's all you're going to have left and, as desperation blows go, that's not a bad option.

Think about it this way; say you want to Choke the life out of your opponents. You start off at far range against a weakened foe - a lot of health but not a lot of energy to work with. Someone you're pretty sure is going to switch out and who, against another character, might send you into a fit trying to figure out whether to attack or intercept. But with Ambrosia you don't have to worry about that. You've just swapped in yourself so you're topped off while they don't have enough energy to stop you. You rush in, burning 50 energy to get close. You slam them with Spectral, burning another 50 energy to take close to 40 of their health. They - knowing they had enough health to survive and that they'd get slammed anyway - elected not to swap and, instead, rested up to have energy for the next round. You, on the other hand, have only the 20 from your natural regeneration. The only thing you can do is Boot them or switch out. But, if you boot them and it works - which should happen over a quarter of the time - you'll buy yourself another round during which you can slap them with the Bleeding Ritual which should finish them off. Or rest up so they're staring down the barrel of another Choke the next round.

Boots is what you can use as a spaced, what can buy you the time and energy you need, even when it doesn't proc, while still being able to do something to your opponent.

Now, all is not perfect in Ambrosia land. As I've mentioned she's a bit light on health. While she might win a race against Bleeding Slice that's not going to happen if Ashi gets smart and starts using Signature Slice. Heavy damage skills can bomb Thorn out in two rounds, sometimes less with a lucky critical hit. Her other problem is that her skills are expensive. Why do Ashi players like Bleeding Slice so much? Because it costs 30 energy (while, you know, being an effective attack. That's pretty important, too. But they wouldn't care how efficient it was if it cost 40 energy and there was another skill on that bar that cost 30.) because that's the butter zone for a skill that you can use multiple times when playing the range game. As it is, Thorn can blow through her energy pool in short order and those high-cost skills can be useless if an opponent burns their pool away by constantly pushing to far range. It's much less of a concern now that Ambrosia can do something from range and that something happens to be pretty energy efficient but it's still there if you want to do something other than bleeding them dry - if, say, you're up against Juju or someone with a Candle who will zap most of your debuffs.

But, overall, Ambrosia is a dangerous card. One who combines a lot of nasty attacks and has excellent ways of controlling the field - swapping out isn't much of a defense against a lot of the things she can do, so opposing players can be disinclined to use that option. Unlike Tafair who, again, is just dumb she doesn't stop them from doing so, she just exerts an influence on how they play the game by altering the way they deal with moving characters on and off the field. It's a really strong effect that, I think, is only going to get stronger as the game matures and players start to understand what's important. And close-range bangers like Ashi and Oni and the like are pretty popular right now so having a card that can destroy them - if played right - is a good thing.

In so many words, I think the v1.5 patch that brought us the new Bleeding Ritual was wonderful for Ambrosia. However, I don't think she's completely perfect just yet - as if any card ever could be. At the moment, though, I don't think there's any pressing need to change her since I'd like to let the sweeping change we have had play out for a little while and see what the problems with her might be. My concern is that she's going to suffer from Ashi syndrome - the disadvantage of having a wealth of options. Ashi, if you'll care to check, is a card that, like Ambrosia, has four strong attacks. Each of them distinct with their own particular niche on her bar. But as these things go, it's too many since one or two are always going to be overshadowed and underused. You simply can't balance them finely enough that they're all going to be useful and fair. Realistically, at least one of them is going to be over/underpowered and you can spend a lot of time trying to tinker with her bar or you can accept the fact that she's going to be working with less than a full set of skills in most relevant gameplay states.

It's, I think, a minor concern and certainly not as pressing a dilemma as those some other cards pose. But it's there. And the trick, I think, is to minimize its influence by making sure each skill has a clearly defined role and is doing everything it can to work towards that - Ashi's bar is pretty good about that and so, really, is Ambrosia's. But since it's a long-standing one previous post long tradition for me to propose a new bar during these things, and since there are some other tweaks I'd like to see happen, here's what I think Ambrosia should look like:

Ambrosia Thorn, the Blood Worshiper
  • Necro (Black)
  • 70/100
  • 3/1/5
  • Ambrosia Thorn is immune to poison and burn effects.
  • Vamp Kiss. 30en, 3spd, 25dmg(Dark). 90hit, 100proc. Drains the life essence of the victim and heals you. Close.
  • Spectral Choke. 50en, 4spd, 10x5dmg(Dark). 90hit, 100proc. Chokes even a fleeing opponent. Close.
  • Bleeding Ritual. 30en, 2sp, Dark. 100hit, 100proc. Deep wounds bleed the opponent for 10 damage each turn for 3 turns (24). Both.
  • Sharpened Claws. 0en, 3spd, Dark. 100hit, 100proc. For 4 turns, when Ambrosia strikes a bleeding opponent for damage, she steals 10 health. Both.

Okay, well, the big change is the new buff I'd give. A beefier version - which should cost some energy - could give her some +damage like Enchant does. I say "strikes...for damage" because I don't want his to work with Bleeding Ritual which isn't actually an attack, just with Choke and Kiss. What this does is give her an on demand Necronomic Tomes and increase the power of her attacks while also giving her some additional life-stealing to help her stick around longer. At 0 energy, it cheap and can serve as a spacer, something she can put up when she doesn't have anything better to do. An Ambrosia who totally burns away her energy in one round can use this on the next and then head straight into an improved Kiss to recover more health to make up for the downtime (If Choke were to stay at 10x4 it also turns Kiss into a kill-shot. With the extra 10 life stolen that's 75 raw damage instead of 65. With my 10x5 version, it's 85/75. Realistically, it's going to be lower since Choke will get hit by resist but making Thorn into a viable threat over 3 rounds when up close is, I think, important.). Four rounds might be excessive but I want it to last a little while while people play range games with Ambrosia.

I'm a bit sad to see Spike Boots go since it's the kind of skill I have a soft-spot for but it's the weak sister of the current line-up. And I like the idea of Ambrosia having a buff somewhere on her bar - I just didn't think the original Blood Ritual was living up to its promise - while now that she can range push, an interrupt/stun isn't matched as nicely with the rest of what she can do. My idea for Ambrosia is that she's the magic-tank. The one who uses her arcane powers and bloodsucking to stand up to the big, physical types. I could see a different version - something more like a more certain Tackle - where it's a low cost interrupt with a moderate to high failure rate. Say, "10en, 8spd, 12dmg. 75hit, 75proc. If this attack hits first, target's action has a chance to be interrupted." It's just I feel that the stun chance on Boots isn't enough to warrant using it except when you absolutely have to but it's hard to make it better without upping the price and completely ruining the skill's niche on Thorny's bar. I think if you had more of a certain pay-off you might actually use it when you had a bar full of energy. Making it an interrupt gives it more tactical flexibility whil making it happen more than half the time means, on average, you'll be better off for having used it while that miss chance means you're going to have to gamble.

I've upped the damage on Bleeding Ritual - which is really, really dangerous, by the way - to 30 over 3 because I want to be certain it's going to kill off Onimaru. At 24 over 3, it's only 72 damage and you'll need that 4th application before he - and other cards with above average health are goners. In the 9~10 range, though, those cards have the same problem that everyone else has when trying to push the new-model Ambrosia to far - they will die, eventually, if they don't do something quick. And it's the cards like Oni and Helen that I want Ambrosia to be threatening the most, so I'll put up with making cards like Amaya and Popo even weaker against card Ramrod than they already are.

I also up Choke a bit, too, by adding a fifth multiplier. It's not really all that much since it's a skill that gets hammered by resistance. And it's just there to make Choke - which should only rarely get pulled off - that little bit more deadly. To pay for it, though, and perhaps just to prove I'm not all about the buffs, I've lowered the hit rate on it, so that there's a slightly less slim chance that cards can slip away from it. And by lowering its priority which means it's more likely to be interrupted - Higashi can nail it with his Sweep now, for one.

And, finally, I've cut the cost on Vamp Kiss. It might be too strong at 25 damage considering it's a 50 health swing for only 30 energy. But two things. First, Ambrosia needs a mid-range cost attack that she can use as her staple when she's getting pushed around in range. That skill needs to be 30 energy and I'd much rather it be Kiss instead of Choke. And, two, I think when evaluating life-draining skills you can't value health stolen as the equivalent of damage done. It's less valuable since it might not matter. If Vamp Kiss is a skill to heal with then it's a different matter but since I think it's something to kill with, that's what I'm going with and that means making it efficient as a damage dealing skill with that life drain as a nice bonus.

So, yeah, that's a lot of changes for a card that's as close to being set as any other but, hey, I'm nuts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

amazing guide!