By Rabid Schnauzer This is the weekly installment in a regular column looking at how to play with or against the week's free Puzzle Strike characters. Because the free characters tend to be played more than the other characters, understanding how they affect play is an important part of mastering online Puzzle Strike Play. This week we look at Geiger and Lum, and we focus on the expansion character Vendetta. :cturkey: Geiger One of the best dressed and certainly the most punctual of the cast, Geiger combines deck bag-stacking and deck bag-searching abilities in Puzzle Strike Worst Matchups Geiger has difficulty against strong economy characters. His two toughest matchups are likely Grave and Setsuki . Grave wins the long game on economy and gradual deck improvement, while Setsuki can use Double-take to get more use of key bank chips than Geiger can from It's Time for the Past and she can also beat Geiger on either economy or chips. Best Matchups Geiger's Research & Development gives him some defense against rushdown and his versatility lets him adapt to the bank better than many of the generalist characters. Additionally, his deck and discard searching abilities give him more resistance to wounds than most characters. He's generally favored against Rook and Persephone . Noobinators Against a naive Geiger, Onimaru will likely get to play an "anything you can do, I can do better" game, with Wartime Tactics offering better options to play puzzle chips from discard than It's Time for the Past and Double Slash offering better early game pile control than Research & Development. At higher skill levels, this match is closer, but still usually in Onimaru's favor. Worst Bank & Counterpicks Geiger's desire to string combos together is hampered if the bank lacks chips with arrows. Geiger can also have problems against chips which force him to discard (Color Panic, Knockdown, and especially Chip Damage)—although It's Time for the Past lets him use those chips well himself. Against Geiger, most characters will want to pull out a chip with a brown arrow and replace it with a moderate to high cost ender. Best Bank & Counterpicks Geiger benefits from early game economy ramp-up chips (Risky Move, Training Day, Sale Prices, Money For Nothing, etc), as It's Time for The Past lets him play them from his discard and Future Sight helps him line them up. Since all of Geiger's character chips are brown and two are brown to washers, Geiger also gets a lot of mileage out of chips with s on them, whether they are forks (One True Style, Gem Essence) or linkers (Dashing Strike, Combinatorics) or cantrips (Axe Kick). It's Time for The Past also lets Geiger reliably use the once-per-turn chips twice per cycle, making them better than for many other characters, so Bang then Fizzle and Ouch! can be very strong for him. Geiger will frequently want to counterpick out a chip which can make him discard and replace it with Axe Kick or Dashing Strike. Lum Lum is a gambling panda. To play him well you need to know the odds. Worst Matchups Lum's worst matchups tend to be against characters who have extreme rushdown or extreme economies. While Lum's odds tend to depend more on the bank than on the opponent, two of the matches he needs the most luck for are Jaina and Grave . Without a favorable bank he has trouble surviving Jaina's rush, and the need to buy s to counter it means he is unlikely to benefit much from Panda's Bargain. Against Grave, he faces the opposite problem—since Grave usually has a better late game than Lum and usually has enough to build an deck-cycling engine about a turn quicker in banks that allow for that—so Lum has to try to end the game quickly or gain an advantage via s Best Matchups Lum's best matchups tend to be against characters who aren't on the extremes, and Jackpot works best against characters likely to have few puzzle chips. Thus Lum's overall best two matchups are probably against DeGrey and Zane . DeGrey's Pilebunker is less effective than normal against Lum's extra-draw economy, and his thindecking makes Jackpot likelier to hit. Zane's Maximum Anarchy gives Lum a load of extra arrows which which to play his extra puzzle chips, and since Crash Potato is itself an there is even a slim chance of Jackpot gaining Lum a Double Crash Gem on the very first turn. Noobinators Against a naive Lum, Vendetta has both a reasonable rushdown and also the potential to delay Panda's Bargain getting into play. This matchup is still in Vendetta's favor at higher skill levels. Worst Bank for Lum and Counter-picking Against Lum Lum is unhappy if the bank is entirely enders as that doesn't let him build a deck which can play multiple chips each turn. Lum also generally does not do well against wounding chips, so Really Annoying, Just a Scratch and "Ouch!" pose problems. Lum's -buy restriction means that chips which help his opponent play rushdown, such as Knockdown, Risk to Riskonade, Repeated Jabs, or even Risky Move can be worrisome. Against characters with strong economies, the 12-cost ! chips are a worry for Lum, since he usually can't get to them quite as fast as Grave, Setsuki or Gloria can. Against Lum most characters will want to pull out whichever bank chip has the most useful arrows on it and pull in an ender which helps speed the game up although wounding chips or 12-cost ! chips are considerations. Best Bank for Lum and Counter-picking for Lum Lum's usual goal is to build an engine deck that draws and plays many chips each turn. To that end he needs a bank which gives him forks (Gem Essence, Button Mashing, One-Two Punch, Punch Punch Kick, Custom Combo) and draws (Now or Later, Draw Three, Roundhouse, It's Combo Time, etc). Panda's Bargain extra draws mean that Lum needs arrows more than he needs + effects. Lum often has strong options with chips, and Lum can string together chip combo chains involving Color Panic, Chip Damage and Pick your Poison into a red ender or washer chip. Since Panda's Bargain has an -buy restriction, Lum is usually happy to see training chips or other chips which can let him gain s without buying, such as: Training Day, Chips for Free, Iron Defense, Stolen Purples, or Combos are Hard. Alternatively, he can compensate for having few s with pseudo-purples like Mixmaster, Gems to Gemonade, One True Style, or Combinatorics. It's also worth mentioning that Option Select and X-Copy are great ways for Lum to play more s without actually having those s. Panda's Bargain's encouragement to buy puzzle chips also means that Lum benefits from puzzle chips which can thin his deck. Gem Essence, Now or Later and It's Combo Time trash gems, letting Lum draw his few s more frequently and string together any chains of puzzle chips he has with more regularity. Self-Improvement and Degenerate Trasher can do that as well as letting Lum safely buy early game puzzle chips which later go obsolete. Finally, since two of his character chips can function as to washers, and since he's usually drawing extra chips, Lum benefits massively from chips with brown arrows such as Axe Kick, Combinatorics and especially Dashing Strike—which is likely better for Lum than for any other character. Lum will usually want to counterpick out a wounding or 12-cost chip and counterpick in Dashing Strike. If Dashing Strike is already in the bank, Lum probably does best to counterpick in a fork or a training chip. Looking at the metagame for both and Free Character Head to Head A match between Geiger and Lum will be very bank dependent. I think that Geiger has the advantage in general, since he can either benefit more than Lum from early game econ ramp chips if they are available, or if they aren't available, he can put together a passable rush with a very few . But I could be wrong in that assessment, and even if I'm not, several different types banks can do great things for Lum. Overlap / Commonality Both of this week's free characters have difficulty against really strong economy characters, so Setsuki, Grave and Gloria are likely good picks against them. But they also both have trouble against Vendetta, who I will discuss in more detail below. There's not much overlap in the characters who are disadvantaged against both of this week's free characters, but Zane likely has difficulty against both of them, since Maximum Anarchy gives Lum arrows to use his extra draw and Geiger has washers, extra draws and can use his bag-searching abilities to regain chips Zane makes him discard with Maximum Anarchy. As for chips, both of this week's free characters have multiple to washers, so removing chips with arrows from the bank should be a strong consideration. Training Day and Chips for Free are also highly beneficial to both of this pair. Counter Counters For characters who generally have at least even games against Geiger and Lum plus the suggested nemeses of Setsuki, Grave, Gloria and Vendetta; the best bet overall is likely going with Jaina's extreme rushdown. Though she is a somewhat questionable pick against Geiger and Vendetta, those are close and she does well against the other three. This Week's Relevant Expansion Character: Vendetta Vendetta is a precise assassin, in Puzzle Strike this means that he specializes in a very subtle form of rushdown wherein he simply denies the opponent the ability to play their s. Worst Matchups Vendetta has difficulty against both Gloria and Onimaru , since each of them has an innate reaction which greatly reduces the effectiveness of Surgical Strike and both of them have pile control options which do not rely on playing Combines. Best Matchups Vendetta generally does well against characters with buy restrictions, since he can deny them the opportunity to play their few while he builds up to send an uncounterable at them. Thus Lum and Troq have an especially hard time against Vendetta, while Midori and Quince can also have difficulty. Noobinators Against a naive Vendetta most characters will fare well, since Vendetta's usual plan of "Build a , and Surgical Strike opponent's Crash" requires more patience and finesse than newer players tend to have, and optimal use of Surgical Strike often requires a fairly deep understanding of the game. However personally I am fond of Persephone :cpersehone: or Argagarg :cargarg: for such matches, as their negation s defend against Surgical Strike and their innate wounding makes it very difficult for Vendetta to line Acrobatics up with useful chips. At higher skill levels these matchups are closer, but underexplored -- if you have insight feel free to share it. Worst Bank for Vendetta and Counter-picking against Vendetta Vendetta is unhappy if the bank has no s in it, since that doesn't let him use the on Surgical Strike and reduces the usefulness of Acrobatics. Vendetta also has trouble against several reactions: Self-Improvement and Really Annoying punish Surgical Strike and the s Vendetta likes to chain with it, while even the simple negations of Thinking Ahead and Blues are Good can allow Vendetta's opponent to hang on to their key chips. Iron Defense is especially problematic for Vendetta, as it allows an opponent to keep a Crash ready no matter what he does. One True Style can also be an issue for Vendetta, since it gives opponents access to an Acrobatics like fork, combines, and can be discarded to allow combining under Stunlock. In a similar manner, Mixmaster serves as a version of Combine that can also be discarded to Stunlock, however the gem-splitting attack is great for Vendetta. For Vendetta, Mixmaster is a mixed bag. Perhaps surprisingly, the Just a Scratch tends to be a better for many opponents than it is for Vendetta. Despite Vendetta having two different arrows to play it off of, wounds slow the overall tempo of the game, weakening Vendetta's chance to succeed at a rush. The cantrips ( Axe Kick, Roundhouse, Punch Punch Kick, It's Combo Time ) are also bad news for Vendetta, since he has trouble affording them himself and the ability to draw and play chips unseen greatly reduces the effectiveness of Surgical Strike. Furthermore, drawing extra chips gives the opponent more flexibility in discarding to get around Stunlock. However the cost of cantrips and Vendetta's ability to make his opponent discard big s or econ ramp chips means that most opponents can't count on being able to afford cantrips reliably. Against Vendetta, most characters likely do best to counterpick a out of the bank and/or counterpick Self-Improvement or Iron Defense in. Although particularly high economy characters may sometimes want to think about cantrips, and characters with arrows and/or innate s may want to consider Just a Scratch. Best Bank for Vendetta and Counter-picking for Vendetta Vendetta does well with the s that make his opponent ante s or discard chips. Chip Damage, Color Panic, Pick your Poison, Repeated Jabs, Knockdown, Sneak Attack and especially Ouch! all really help him rush the opponent down and/or deny the opponent the ability to lower their pile. Vendetta also does well with the non-cantrip + chips ( Draw Three, Chips for Free, Gems to Gemonade, and Now or Later. ) Vendetta has no innate economic boost and Acrobatics becomes less useful with each additional in Vendetta's deck, so these chips let Vendetta gain some economy while also making it more likely for him to be able to use multiple arrows from Acrobatics. Additionally, chips which increase the tempo of the game massively help Vendetta's rush, so in addition to the red chips already mentioned, Risk to Riskonade, Risky Move and even Ebb or Flow ( choose to ante a ) can be pretty good for Vendetta. Finally, Training Day is shockingly good for Vendetta. It helps him improve his economy without bloating his deck, and the helps him line his chips up to play them in combination. Often he can play a combo with Acrobatics, then Training Day then play the gained chip immediately, taking his opponent by surprise. Vendetta just about always wants to counterpick out a or Iron Defense and counterpick in Ouch!. In pools which already have Ouch! he should consider pulling ins which have s and make the opponent ante or discard. Until Next Week: May the chips fall your way.