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Spike Launch Nerf Analysis and Speculation

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Introduction

It’s been one whole month and Teppen has already seen its first balance update - Nergigante, scourge of champion rank and source of at least 2 complaint threads a day on /r/teppen, is getting his only high tier hero art nerfed. Spike Launch’s damage is now capped at 12 damage split across the board and costs 20 AP as opposed to its previous unlimited damage for 17 AP.

TEPPEN Season 1: The Spikiest of Launches

Spike Launch was, without a doubt, the best hero art in the game. Nerg could aggressively pay life to set up a board clearing payoff every time he hit 17 AP, and then heal back lost life easily via a pairing with Green’s Abel/Sibling Memories or by sacrificing a unit to Black’s Selfish Predation. Coupled with the sheer power level of Black’s units, Nerg was the clear best deck in the format that the entire metagame revolved around.

That’s not to say it was unbeatable. Decks like Wrath Awoken and Yawn-Li were playable because they could reliably play 6 1-mana Shield actions to pre-empt Spike Launch. Morrigan and Dante Resonate preyed on the Nerg decks by locking them out of the game prior to 17 AP and creating a gigantic flying unit out of Spike Launch range. At the tail end of the season, Uroburos Wesker grew in popularity because of the ability to reanimate the enormous Deviljho and play the long game with cheap Revenge units to recover post-Spike Launch.

At the top end of the champion metagame, however, Nerg was still dominant with many different variants seeing play. Monoblack Nerg was popular in the beginning of the season but quickly fell off the map as the power of Green as a support color was discovered. By the end of the season, there were a few distinct versions of Black/Green Nerg that saw widespread play:

Traditional

This version played a full complement of the over-stat life loss units such as Crow, Nelo Angelo, and Great Girros. With the favorable combat situations these units created, the B/G Nerg player could build a large board to aggressively go wide with cards such as William Birkin. Spike Launch was used as the nail in the coffin as the opponent spent all their resources trying to claw back into the game. Iris helped power out the aggression, Wall Jump could keep units on the board and set up favorable trades, and Abel/Sibling Memories could replenish lost life to keep the string of monsters coming (and also provide Spike Launch fuel to ensure Launch #2 and onwards would fully clear the board).

MP Boost

Instead of some of the traditional life loss units, this version played Felyne in addition to Iris and relied on Psycho Power and Heartless Experiment to give the MP Boost units staying power. Spike Launch helped the deck snowball and ensured that the B/G Nerg player could snowball with the mana advantage that the MP Boost units provided.

Zombie

This version played a collection of Revenge units to give the deck late game staying power. While Revenge units are typically under-stat for their cost, their 2+ power usually ensures they can at least get in some decent hits while they’re on the board. The Nerg deck took advantage of this by using Spike Launch to clean up various 1 and 2 HP units clogging up the board and reset tempo. Then in the late game, a horde of under-cost powered-up Revenge units combined with Spike Launch would let the Nerg player run away with the game.

TEPPEN Season 2: Nerfed Nerg

With the nerf to Spike Launch, Nerg players now face some decisions to make regarding deck construction. The core concepts of the Nerg deck remain the same - trade life for power, dominate the board, and knock off 2-3 units at a time with Spike Launch. However, with Spike Launch now capped at 12 damage, it’s much easier for other decks to build units that can get out of Spike Launch range. Additionally, at 20 AP, the setup for Spike Launch is now lengthier. Decks that could already outpace Nerg now can accomplish that on a more consistent basis.

Action-based decks - Resonate/Wrath Awoken

At an initial glance, Resonate and Wrath Awoken are the two main beneficiaries of the new Spike Launch. Resonate was already a bad matchup for Nerg, with the Purple player often waiting for Nerg to drop units, playing their Resonate unit against a non-threatening unit, then repeatedly halting its opponent while giving the Resonate unit flight. By doing so, the Purple player could ensure that the Nerg player never got to 17 AP throughout the whole game (or until their Resonate unit was out of Spike Launch range). Now, setting up that scenario is even easier for Purple - and the new 12 damage cap on Spike Launch is in most cases not enough to take down a giant Resonate unit by itself.

The 12 damage cap is less relevant for Wrath Awoken but the 20 AP cost is huge. In the Nerg vs Wrath Awoken matchup, the inflection point often came when the Nerg player hit 17 AP - did the Wrath Awoken player have enough board presence and shields set up at that time to force a bad or delayed Spike Launch? If so, the Wrath Awoken player was probably going to win that game. By delaying that inflection point, the Wrath Awoken player has more time to set up shielded units and get a better initial hero art off. The Wrath Awoken player can also now try to set up a failed Spike Launch by taking advantage of the 20 AP cost to drop another unit to soak up damage. With Wrath Awoken's key units featuring 6+ HP, a poor RNG damage spread from Nerg will be devastating if it causes a large flyer to live.

Monocolor board presence decks - Monogreen/Monoblack Wesker

Green decks are also set to take advantage of the 12 damage cap placed on Spike Launch. Before, Chun-Li and X decks would commit several high mana-cost units to the board only to see them blown all away in one Spike Launch unless they had the proper Shield setup. The resulting tempo loss was brutal as the Nerg player would often have a full board by the time the Green player could recover to play even one unit. Now if the Green player can set up a strong board (perhaps one fueled by the 6 drop Chris Redfield), there is little a Nerg player can do to reset the board to parity.

Similar to this situation is Wesker - if the Wesker player can tread water in the early game and set up a board full of powered-up Revenge units, there is little the Nerg player can do in that situation. Even with an optimal damage spread, Spike Launch will often be reduced to taking out one unit and severely damaging another. Nerg will have to play much more aggressively against Wesker to avoid reaching the Revenge endgame.

The new top dog - Ryu

The interesting matchup here is Ryu, which was B/G Nerg’s best matchup out of all the top-tier decks. Ryu’s problems with B/G Nerg were that Nerg’s units were often too strong for Ryu to reliably clear off the board at a mana advantage, and that Wall Jump was a massive blowout against any sort of damage based removal. Where Ryu could win was with an uncontested Dreadking Rathalos or Fate-Defying Ryu, or if Nerg got a bad draw and Ryu could slowly take over the game while Nerg tried to climb back in.

Many of these tricky matchup issues remain. Nerg still has huge units, a 1-mana solution to damage-based removal, and a Hero Art that instantly knocks off Rathalos or Ryu. Where the Spike Launch nerf hurts Nerg are those awkward hands that aren’t too competitive early game, which allow Ryu to get on the board early. Those board situations can’t be reset as reliably by Spike Launch now, meaning Ryu can more easily sit on a legendary and wait for the right situation to strike.

While the matchup is certainly better for Ryu now, I’m not sure it’s enough to move the matchup to a favorable one. This puts Ryu in an interesting spot - he benefits the least from the Nerg nerf, whereas decks like Resonate, Wrath Awoken, Yawn-Li, and other Green decks reap larger gains against the format’s former boogeyman. While Ryu has a nice matchup against Resonate, the matchup against the Green-based decks is more nebulous, especially if they go all out with Shield actions. How effective Ryu is in the new format depends on how well he can handle these new threats in conjunction with how popular Nerg remains.

Looking Forward

The future metagame, then, might be a push and pull with Ryu and Resonate. If Ryu can’t handle the influx of new decks designed to take down what many people view as the new king of the metagame, the percentage of people playing Ryu in ranked will decrease. At that point, playing Resonate becomes an attractive prospect as it has no real bad matchups besides Ryu. Green decks are especially juicy matchups as they have very few outs to large flyers, and Purple has solutions to those outs. Resonate also is strong against Wrath Awoken due to the flexibility of Halt actions which means that as Ryu wanes in popularity, Resonate will rise to take advantage. It seems as if the high-level rock-paper-scissors metagame of Nerg > Ryu > Resonate > Nerg might still be in place, but with Nerg dethroned and replaced with a hodgepodge of decks that can beat Ryu.

Of course, this is all speculation - we have a new hero coming, new cards coming, decks that haven’t been able to beat Nerg in the past coming back into the metagame - it’s an exciting time for Teppen. At the very least, I think as players we should be happy that Gungho and Capcom are taking a measured, data-driven approach to the balance of the game. The results of the first ranked season clearly were used to make this decision - no knee-jerk reaction was made.

However, I do wish that the nerf was not quite as extreme - the existing 17 AP cost seems like it could be fair with the 12 damage cap, especially with a new hero and cards coming into shake up the metagame. I also wish Nerg’s other hero arts had been reworked or buffed in conjunction with the Spike Launch nerf - both of them are mostly unplayable at the current stage. Nerg fans are still locked into a single playstyle with this nerf, without much room for exploration while still remaining competitive. The hope here is that Gungho and Capcom are also paying attention to the data of the underused as well as overused hero arts and will make decisions accordingly.

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