By Mr. Saint
Cards in hand are good. Cards in hand are important. Cards, whether they be in your hand or deck, are one of the resources that make Exceed’s in-game engine hum (the other two resources being gauge and life respectively). That must make the Prepare action particularly effective right? After all, it’s a free card! Plus a card for not Striking on your turn! An embarrassment of riches, truly. But, as a counterpoint, have you ever had a game where you’ve lost with a full grip?
Here’s the thing: the Prepare action is very low impact. It doesn’t change the board state. It doesn’t advance you towards your endgame goal of reducing the opponent to zero life. One might even call the Prepare action “strategic dawdling”. Exceed is, by design, a game that favors offense. Players are incentivized to be the ones initiating Strikes by the game’s rules, whereby the player who initiates a Strike wins Speed ties (Attacker Priority). This short, unassuming rule has large implications for most games of Exceed. If you’re the one initiating a Strike, and you have on-curve options left for your range, the opponent has to respond either with something above curve to have a chance of going first, or with an attack that will not care about the Speed of yours. If on your turn, you instead choose to Prepare, you are ceding that potential advantage to the opponent. And for what? One extra card? Which may or may not be relevant to the current boardstate? Yikes.
This isn’t to say that the Prepare action has no place in a seasoned Exceed player’s arsenal. It’s just that, in most cases, there is something better you could be doing with your action (boosting, moving, etc.). When a newer player is asked why they chose to Prepare on a given turn, the response is often along the lines of, “I wanted more options to respond to my opponent.” This rationale has things backwards. The Prepare action is at its best when you already have meaningful options to the opponent’s next potential play. But how do you know when that is? And what should you do instead when Preparing is not optimal? Of course, the answer to this riddle is very gamestate dependent. To illustrate what I’m talking about, the rest of this article will walk through some scenarios (inspired by games I’ve recently played), analyze whether it’s a good time to Prepare, and what the other options might be.
Scenario 1: Ryu (you) vs. Tinker Knight
Boardstate: Ryu in corner, Tinker Knight at R3. Tinker has not yet flipped and is at 4 life, Ryu is at 24 life. Tinker has just boosted Light and drawn for the end of turn, passing the turn with 3 cards in hand.
Tinker’s Gauge: Block, Focus, Block
Tinker’s Discard: Spike, Dive, Dive, Assault, Mech Charge, Focus, Spike, Sweep, Drill Arm, Grasp, Cross.
Ryu’s Gauge: Tatsu, Shoryuken, Cross
Hadoken is on top of Ryu’s Deck.
Ryu’s Discard: Hadoken, Assault, Focus, Metsu Hadoken, Metsu Hadoken, Block, One Inch Punch
Ryu’s Hand: Tatsu, Dive, Grasp, Block, Sweep
You’ve been harrying Tinker Knight with looped Hadokens, but they’ve finally driven you into a corner. Given this board state, should you Prepare?
Let’s look at our available information. Tinker Knight knows about the Hadoken on top of your deck, and their boosting Light signals that they want to play something that needs the Speed to beat your Speed 6 projectile. Your hand contains two attacks that are not particularly speed sensitive, Sweep and Tatsu. These attacks are also relatively safe against frontside Tinker Knight’s comparatively low power, with all of Tinker Knight’s remaining attacks other than Bomb Bounce capping out at 4 Power, not enough to stun either of your slow attacks (and Bomb Bounce would use all of Tinker’s gauge, a risky proposition when Tinker Knight hasn’t flipped and only has 4 remaining life). Both copies of the other major threat to your slow attacks, Spike, are in Tinker Knight’s discard pile.
I think this is a perfect opportunity to take the Prepare action. If Tinker Knight initiates a Strike, you can respond with one of your slow attacks to counter, so you lose nothing by letting the opponent take the initiative. If Tinker Knight chooses to boost something that changes the math rather than striking (such as Turbocharger or Upgrade for the +3 Power that would make stunning Sweep a possibility), you have a Tech at the ready. Get your free card, content in the knowledge that you are ready to respond to whatever your opponent is going to do!
Scenario 2: Shovel & Shield Knight (you, abbreviated to EXSK) vs. Zangief
Boardstate: Shovel Knight at Range 1 to Zangief. Shield Knight behind Shovel Knight, Range 3 to Zangief. EXSK is at 4 life, Zangief is at 5 life. Zangief has just boosted Parry, naming “Shield Boomerang” and missing, drawing for end of turn then passing with 5 cards in hand. Zangief has already Reshuffled, EXSK has not.
Zangief’s Gauge: Dive, Focus
Zangief’s Discard: Focus, Cross, Siberian Blizzard, Ultimate Atomic Buster, Dive, Block, Cross, Double Lariat, Block
EXSK’s Gauge: Shield Boomerang, Buckler Blow, Discovery
There are 7 cards remaining in EXSK’s deck.
EXSK’s Discard: Sweep, Shovel Drop, Cross, Sweep, Cross, Assault, Grasp, Block, Spike, Block, Assault, Focus, Spike, Shield Gong, Charge Slash
EXSK’s Hand: Tandem Attack, Tandem Attack, Charge Slash, Dive, Dive
You sure are in dire straits this game. It’s been a hard fought battle, trying to zone Zangief, trading blows with him until you find yourself in this unenviable late-game boardstate. Zangief at Range 1, with plenty of cards in hand, gauge to crit, and a potentially lethal Speed 7 threat still live (Critical Atomic Suplex). You need a miracle if you want to lock this game up and walk away with the win. Fortunately, EXSK come equipped with something almost as good in their kit. You need to find your second copy of Shield Boomerang. So, should you Prepare?
You could Prepare here. Taking the Prepare action would give you a 2 in 7 chance to draw into the card that might win you the game. People love to tell stories about how they beat the odds, and exciting moments like this happen all the time in Exceed! But, if you would rather give yourself the best chance to win the game, there is a better option.
In this scenario, I’m talking about the Change Cards action. Here, instead of Preparing, you should Change Cards (6), discarding both ultras (Shield Knight is out of position and it doesn’t beat the attack you’re worried about, even EX’d), the Charge Slash (you die before this attack activates if Zangief plays virtually anything), and one of the Dives. This, combined with the end of turn draw, will allow you to draw the remaining cards in your deck, including the much-needed Shield Boomerang. The takeaway here is that if you’re looking for a specific answer, the Change Cards action is often much more effective than the Prepare action, allowing you to dig deeper into your deck and significantly improve your odds of finding what you need. In this case, you’re exchanging functionally “dead” cards (along with a Dive, which is still potentially useful in this game state for its boost) for a new lease on life.
Scenario 3: Ryu (you) vs. Umina
Boardstate: Ryu is at Range 1 to Umina. Ryu is at 9 life, Umina is at 6. You just successfully connected with Assault (Umina whiffed Dark Thoughts), and it is your turn. Umina has a card facedown in her Dreamlands (The Sleeper Awakes Transformation) and 2 cards in hand.
Umina’s Gauge: Sweep
Umina’s Discard: Block, Hollow Space, Grasp, Shadow Chorus, Focus, Grasp, Assault, Dive, Dark Thoughts
Ryu’s Gauge: Shoryuken, Grasp, Assault
Ryu’s Discard: Focus, Block, Assault, One Inch Punch, Sweep, Metsu Shoryuken, Grasp, Cross, Focus, Dive, Sweep Shoryuken, Block, Hadoken, Metsu Hadoken
Ryu’s Hand: Dive, Dive, Spike
It’s the late game again and you’ve managed to get up in Umina’s grill, thanks to the Assault you played last Strike. Even better, it’s your turn again, since you gained Advantage off your confirmed attack. You’ve got momentum and more life on your side! There’s only one problem: None of the cards in your hand do anything at this Range! So, should you Prepare?
You could Prepare here. There are worse things to do with the Advantage you gained. And the answer here is not as clear cut as the above two scenarios. Let’s discuss the other available options to see if we like any of them better. You could use Ryu’s UA to move to Range 2, which would potentially make your Spike live and draw a card to end your turn. This is not a particularly exciting option, as your Spike will lose to Umina’s live Cross or Assault (as well as possibly losing to Out of Mind and Shadow Chorus, depending on what is in Umina’s Dreamlands). Similarly, spending cards to take the Move action to Range 3 or greater is not very enticing, as it will put you very low on resources and pass the initiative to the Umina player, who still has on curve options in midrange.
There is another option here. You could Wild Swing! Looking at your cards in hand, gauge, and discard, you can deduce the contents of the remaining ten cards in your deck. They are two copies of Tatsu, two copies of Donkey Kick, One Inch Punch, Metsu Hadoken, Hadoken, Spike, Cross, and Metsu Shoryuken. With this deck makeup, you have a 75% chance to hit an attack that will be effective at Range 1 (invalidating the two ultras leaves 8 cards, of which only Spike and Hadoken would not hit at this range). These are pretty good odds, and this is the course of action I would recommend in this situation. Though note, this is still not free, as Umina has a copy of Hollow Space live (preventing hits at R1), as well as a Focus and Block. But I think this play gives you the best chance to capitalize on the momentum you’ve gained with your previous play and lets you keep the pressure on Umina in a way that the other plays don’t.
Hopefully, the above three scenarios have helped detail the mind set I have when determining if I should spend my turn taking the Prepare action, and what I might do instead. Notably, which character you are playing also helps define when Preparing is a good idea. As an example, I Prepare significantly more as Ryu than Ken. This is due to Ryu’s more reactive counterplay style, contrasted with Ken’s rushdown playstyle.
Additionally, there is also some merit in the Prepare action as a sort of “fold,” whereby you have already determined there is nothing you can do about the opponent’s next Strike (because of a boost they played, or some other tactical advantage they’re leveraging), so you might as well gain an extra card while you wait for a more neutral boardstate to reemerge. However, these situations are not as common as they might first appear, and it pays to think about your other options to see if any of them will work better in your current situation.
Taking the Prepare action is a useful tool. But without careful forethought as to when one should do it, things can easily slip away from you. More cards are great, but it’s really what you plan on doing with them that matters.
As a reminder, I’m an Exceed enthusiast, not an Exceed expert, so I welcome discussion and constructive criticism on this post. Let me know if you enjoyed it, or if there is something specific you would like to see covered in the future!