Mindfulness According to Katsu

by Derek Watring, Mark Chamberlain 31st August 2021 9 : 41
This article is narrated by Mark Chamberlain, and is available only to subscribers. Subscriptions are currently managed via the FaB DB Patreon page. You must purchase Supporter+, Majestic+ or Legendary+ to get access to The Rathe Times' Pro Series content.

I currently believe aggro Katsu is the best deck in the format.

Fortunately, I have some results to back it up. My 17-0 record across Road to Nationals gives me credibility when I make that claim. It's also somewhat deceptive- three weeks ago, I was playing control Katsu and ended the day 3-2-1, missing Top 8. So that 17-0 record isn't my complete RtN record. But it is an accurate representation of Aggro Katsu's performance. Since swapping to a more aggressive deck, I’ve been able to claim two (1, 2) Road to Nationals wins (here’s the deck, by the way, and the sideboard guide).

The difference between my results was definitely related to my deck choice, but could I really be seeing such dramatically different performance with the same hero and only a ~25 card difference? Perhaps it was more than just the deck that changed. Perhaps it was a mindset change as well.

Blocking Is a State of Mind

What makes control Katsu different from aggro Katsu? Blocking of course. When I sleeved up a control Katsu deck for my first Road to Nationals, my mindset was to block.

With Mask of Momentum equipped, Katsu has dangerous two card hands, which (alongside Flic Flak) enables strong control decks. If you expect to block, then you need your 1-2 card hands to be threatening- even on the back foot. This is why Bravo has such power as a control deck: Anothos means one card typically represents 4 damage, and two cards 6 (often with a Seismic Surge token for next turn).

Katsu has similar advantages as a control deck. His one card hands can be just as threatening (Fluster Fist, as an example); and with a single resource from Fyendal's Spring Tunic, he can throw fives like Pounding Gale and Torrent of Tempo.

A Katsu with 2 in hand is extremely threatening: Kodachi into Kodachi into Pounding Gale is 7 total damage from one blue pitch, all while setting up your next turn with a card for your arsenal from Mask of Momentum. This additional card means a lot in Flesh and Blood, which is inherently a game of inches- but we’ll return to this later.

So as we've demonstrated, control decks manage to present significant threat from 1-2 card hands. This is essential, because blocking is the expectation. Therefore, it stands to reason that aggressive decks should do more with 4-5 card hands than the average deck, because not blocking is the expectation. The mindset changes.

An Offensive Mindset

Let's start with some examples to illustrate how Katsu can aggressively leverage a full hand of cards.

A hand like the one above is admittedly rare, but it serves to illustrate the potential available to aggressive Ninjas. By pitching Find Center to attack with Surging Strike, followed by Whelming Gustwave into Mugenshi: Release!, you're presenting at least 16 damage (it’s usually a lot, lot more). You also have a chance at drawing a card from Mask of Momentum, another from Whelming Gustwave, and three copies of Lord of Wind from Mugenshi: Release! On average, this turn ends up pushing damage in the mid-twenties- but it blocks for only 11!

Blocking is not the expectation.

Let's look at another hand Katsu's happy to see:

Pitch Find Center to play Leg Tap into Rising Knee Thrust into Hurricane Technique- and then Hurricane Technique again! Unblocked, this represents at least 18 damage- and, as always, threatens to draw a card from Mask of Momentum.

You should roll your eyes at this point. It’s unreasonable to assume an unblocked chain of attacks! If the opponent had blocked Mugenshi: Release!, it would have prevented a draw from Mask. It would have prevented Katsu from adding the three copies of Lord of Wind to his hand, as well as preventing 5 damage. 

If the opponent had blocked Hurricane Technique, it would have prevented Katsu from putting it back into his hand to play again. It also would have prevented a draw from Mask. And of course, it would have prevented 5 damage.

With that reality check, this may feel like it was trivial, but I do have a point! Some cards are more threatening than others, and blocking them means a lot more than just the health you conserve from the cards you use to block with. This may seem obvious, but the implications of it are significant- especially when honing your aggressive deck!

Block Threat

As I said before, Flesh and Blood is a game of inches. Only drawing up to your intellect every turn means that the only “card advantage” you can achieve is through your arsenal. Therefore, to win, being “card efficient” is where the strategy lies. The game of inches takes place by extracting every bit of efficiency out of your 4-5 card hands as possible. You feel it while playing. Most games are incredibly close in Flesh and Blood.

I don't intend to speak to this element solely in the abstract, but I also can't cover every hero (yet?), so I'll keep this focused on my expertise: what efficiency means for- and against- aggro Katsu.

That said, I promise this will be relevant to everyone.

In Flesh and Blood, most cards do more damage than they block for. Wounding Blow blocks for 3 and attacks for 4. So if it’s a straight race to kill the other player, you’d rather attack with it than block- unless blocking with it meant more than blocking 3, of course. Blocking is usually a matter of efficiency. Blocking depends on your valuation of the threat, versus the reduction in your next turn's damage by blocking. We can try to rank some attacks based on their “block threat”- that is, the likelihood that blocking the attack will be worth more life than just the base block of the card(s)/equipment(s) used to block it. To be able to rank attacks, let's make a scale from Wounding Blow to Mugenshi: Release!

Threat Chart 1

On an instinctual level, this is obvious. But it’s important enough to speak aloud. Since I have some experience with aggro Katsu, let’s rank some of aggro Katsu’s cards on this list. His on-hit triggers allow him to extend/expand his play options with card draw/deck search effects and create high block threats.

Threat Chart 2

To understand this chart, we need to identify how Katsu’s ability impacts threat. The first number is its threat with a live Katsu ability; the second, if one exists, represents a drop in the card's threat level when Katsu isn't available.

As an example, Surging Strike ranks as a 6 on the block threat scale- but it falls to a 2 if Katsu can't use his ability. When you attack with a Surging Strike with some cards left in your hand, it means that very likely you’re going to get a Whelming Gustwave (a 6 block threat card) and attack with it next. There’s also the possibility you’ve already got a Whelming Gustwave in hand, and are going to get a Mugenshi: Release! instead.

Here's how evaluating threat can drastically change the efficiency of your blocking. As I’m writing this, I have the deck next to me. I shuffled and drew the four you see below.

I pitch Lord of Wind to attack with Surging Strike.

  1. Now, we know Surging Strike is a high block threat. It’s very likely to be worth more life than just the base block of the card(s)/equipment(s) used to block it.
  2. Let’s assume my opponent isn’t blocking this turn. I use Katsu’s ability to discard Crane Dance, searching out Whelming Gustwave to attack with that next.
  3. Again, they're not blocking. I draw a card from Whelming Gustwave and it’s a Soulbead Strike.
  4. I attack with Soulbead Strike and it goes unblocked. This draws another card from Mask of Momentum, this time drawing a Razor Reflex.
  5. Finally I attack with Blackout Kick.

This unblocked turn did 17 damage, and set me up with a great arsenal card in Razor Reflex.

If my opponent knew the threat of Surging Strike and instead blocked it, I could still follow up with a different line. I could pitch Crane Dance for Kodachi, Kodachi, Blackout Kick. But this time, the same hand only represented 11 damage. My opponent blocking any other attack would also stop my Mask from drawing into Soulbead Strike for my arsenal.

Let's assume my opponent used 2 cards from hand to block Surging Strike, and didn’t block anything else. They blocked 5 total damage, but actually took 11 less damage. Their two cards blocked for 11 damage because instead of taking 17, they took 6- 4 from Blackout Kick and 2 from Kodachis.

This example puts in perspective how threat impacts the value of blocking. Their two cards blocked 220% of their normal value.

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Advantage and Efficiency

So far, this seems more like a lesson in how to undermine aggro Katsu than an illustration of how it's the best deck in the game. But playing aggro Katsu is all about the art of manipulating block threat, and using it as an advantage.

A Plunder Run from arsenal, into Kodachi, into Kodachi, into Surging Strike. Amazingly threatening. In this case Surging Strike comes primed to draw from Mask and again from Plunder Run. It's also a trigger for Katsu, best used to search out Whelming Gustwave.

This is a red alert 10 block threat on my scale. It should probably be blocked, because it represents so much more damage than the 8 it takes to block it. But why would the Katsu player stack one single threat so high? This is where manipulation of threat comes in.

  1. The Katsu player might assume their opponent gets lazy, or values their hand too highly, to block for more than exactly 8- and Katsu has Ancestral Empowerment or Lunging Press in hand to climb over a precise defense.
  2. Perhaps Levia is the opponent and Katsu knows Levia can’t block with three cards from hand or Levia takes blood debt damage- so he wins either way.
  3. Perhaps the rest of Katsu’s hand isn’t very strong, and he’s using this as a way to bait blocks and unpower the opponent's 4-5 card hand.
  4. Perhaps Katsu has the Whelming Gustwave already in hand, and Katsu really wants their opponent to block this for 9, so they’re unable to block Whelming Gustwave and Katsu draws 2 cards anyway.

No other deck abuses block threats as much as Katsu and all of his on-hit triggers. It really forces "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" situations, and punishes incorrect blocks incredibly hard.

This time let's skip the Kodachis. Just Plunder Run from arsenal, into a Surging Strike. Still threatening, but not as much. There’s no Mask trigger to worry about just yet, but this hitting could give Katsu a missing piece of his combo line.

If this attack is blocked, Katsu may still have a solid followup with Kodachi, Kodachi, attack to threaten Mask of Momentum separately. Now Katsu’s created 2 separate streams of high block threat attacks instead of one, making a block on either attack less effective.

If Katsu knows his opponent would block Surging Strike, this makes lots of sense. Katsu might know this based on his opponent's deck, his opponent's previous tendencies, or by assuming the ease of doing so with equipment (such as Carrion Husk).

Or, if Katsu really wants to connect with Surging Strike, spreading these threats perhaps entices an opponent to not block the key card he would like to connect with.

If you’re playing aggro Katsu, try to evaluate which decision is better. And if you’re playing against aggro Katsu, always be mindful of what they could have done, but did differently. Evaluate how that could let you glean some information from their unknown hand.

Block threat plays an important role in most games of Flesh and Blood, whether Katsu is involved or not. Try framing other heroes with this in mind. Kano also has some very high block threats. Dorinthea and Boltyn both have some negative block threats, where blocking their threats actually expands/extends their play opportunities. Those players will use that to their advantage as well, so be alert!

Playing great Flesh and Blood comes with experience- more so than any other TCG, in my opinion. With the card pool still so small, experience in Flesh and Blood means a lot. The majority of a hero's deck can be reasonably assumed at this point; this makes prediction really valuable, and fairly easy to accomplish with experience.

Experience not only means card knowledge and deck identification, but also less gameplay mistakes. Most players are capable of misrepresenting a block threat as higher or lower than it actually is. When my opponent attacks with Kodachi, Kodachi, Command and Conquer with 2 cards still in hand, and I have no cards in arsenal, it sounds threatening. Sometimes I flinch because I’ve been in this situation before and the circumstances were slightly different, and it really was a high block threat. But I have no arsenal, and the Mask of Momentum isn’t scary when their turn is ending anyway and they already have cards to arsenal. I’ll evaluate that my hand is very threatening, take the 8 for the turn, and give them my full hand back.

Evaluate every time. Don’t make assumptions.

In Closing

Thanks for sticking around! I hope I was able to help reframe some simple concepts. I always love to hear thoughts and opinions, so please share them!

While I was writing this, there were some concepts fairly specific to aggro Katsu I wanted to include — but I think they’re best saved for a separate piece. Watch for a future article expanding on “block threat”, imperfect information, using Harmonized Kodachi to its fullest, beating Chane, and more.

Derek Watring

Derek Watring is a lover of competition most recently enticed by Flesh and Blood. Since his start at Monarch's release, he's seen 2 skirmish finals, a skirmish win, 3 road to nationals top 8’s, and 2 road to nationals wins.

Mark Chamberlain

Our narrator, Mark Chamberlain, is a long-time card game player-- but they're all sitting on the shelf while he practices Guardian in Flesh and Blood. Mark is based out of Colorado Springs, USA.