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 Valerie and Argagarg, and we focus on the expansion character Gloria. Valerie: Valerie is perhaps the most flexible character in Puzzle Strike, she can build a strong rushdown, defense or economy game. Worst Matchups Valerie's worst matchups are against dedicated economy characters and she has difficulty against characters that cause wounds and other late-game characters. Her worst two matchups are probably against Grave and Setsuki . Grave tends to beat Val in the long game via his slightly better economy, ability to upgrade weak chips and by using Reversal against Val's Chromatic Orb to make the game go longer. Most of the time, Val should try to rush Grave down and avoid countercrashes. Setsuki can either beat Val in the long game via by using Double-take with economy chips to build a lead, or by using Double-take to play wounding chips early. While not quite as unfavorable for Val, Argagarg, Persephone and Degrey are still difficult matchups due to those characters' advantages in the long game, and Val usually wants to try to rush them down. Best Matchups Valerie's best matchups tend to be against dedicated rushdown characters and she's generally pretty good against generalist characters. Her best two matchups are probably against Jaina and Zane. Against Jaina, Val's extra pile control helps resist rushdown and Val's cycling usually gets her better economy. As long as Val is careful to plan for how many gems Jaina can send in a turn using Burning Vigor and Unstable Power she'll do well. Against Zane, Creative Thoughts and Chromatic Orb tend to let Val benefit more from Maximum Anarchy than Zane himself does, and Chromatic Orb's extra pile control reduces Zane's rushdown threat and the downside of Crash Potato. While not quite as favorable for Val, Troq, Midori and Rook are usually good matchups for her, since her affinity for using attack chips can make things difficult for those characters. Noobinators While probably around even at high skill levels, Quince is a great choice against a naive Valerie player. His Patriot Mirror gives him similar forking potential and Flagstone Tax can seriously punish a Val who crashes or Orbs at him early. Worst Bank for Val and Counter-picking Against Val Val's worst bank is probably a monocolor brown bank, since that means she can only use Three Colors to fork into Chromatic Orb. She can also have issues with wounding chips (Really Annoying, Just a Scratch, It's a Trap, Ouch!), although her red arrow and cycling let her use such chips more advantageously than many opponents. Valerie's advantages are slightly diminished if the bank has a cheap fork which the opponent can exploit better than she can (Gem Essence, One True Style, Button Mashing, Recklessness), but again her cycling lets her use such things better than some opponents. Finally, Iron Defense can reduce the effectiveness of a Val rushdown—and since in all of Val's bad matchups she generally wants to go rushdown, this can take a match from unfavorable for Val to nearly hopeless for her. Against Val, most characters will want to pull out a blue or red chip and pull in a cheap fork or wounder, although characters who already have advantages against Val may want to consider Iron Defense. Best Bank for Val and Counter-picking for Val Val's best bank has useful brown, blue and red chips. Val does especially well with cantrips (One of Each, Roundhouse), deck-thinning or upgrading chips (Self-Improvement, Now or Later, Training Day, Chips for Free) and she can use off-color drawing (Improvisation, Pick Your Poison, Axe Kick) chips really well. Furthermore, her innate fork and multicolored mini crash mean that she’s very good with chips which have s on them. Val will usually want to counterpick out a cheap fork and counterpick in a red or blue chip, but she should tailor her counterpicks to her opponent and the strategy they are most vulnerable against. Argagarg The most aggravating fish in the game, Argagarg Garg's chips all slow the game down, allowing time for the wounds to add up and debilitate his opponent. Worst Matchups Argagarg Garg's worst matchups are against characters who can rush him down and cope with wounds. Thus his two very worst matchups are against Jaina and Midori , both of whom have both fast rushdown options and ways to trash wounds. Jaina's Burning Vigor punishes Arg for giving her wounds. Midori's Dragon form means he frequently doesn't care that Protective Ward stops him from combining to a 4-gem. As an honorbale mention, DeGrey's thindecking can negate Arg's wounding, and his s can allow him to combine despite Protective Ward. Best Matchups Argagarg's best matchups are against characters who can't end the game fast, nor improve chips in their deck. Wounds are problematic for most characters, but especially so for characters whose usual plan is to cycle their decks fast. Thus Argagarg's best two overall matchups are probably against Valerie and Gwen , both of whom have real trouble lining up their forks with their draws once they get a few wounds. Noobinators Against a naive Argagarg, Gloria's innate , s, to play the main actions of puzzle chips with useful reactions and her ability to trash wounds are all incredibly handy. However at high skill levels, this matchup is likely in Argagarg's favor, provided Argargarg knows to play avoid letting Gloria react and takes advantage of Radiant Healing to thin his own deck. Worst Bank for Argagarg and Counter-picking Against Argagarg Argagarg has a relatively low bank dependence himself, but there are a number of chips he doesn't want his opponent to have. Chips which speed the game up, such as Risky Move, Sneak Attack, Knockdown and Risk to Riskonade are Arg's biggest worry. Self Improvement, and Money for Nothing have powerful reactions that can make it very risky for Arg to play Hex of Murkwood. The other blue chips, not quite so much, since Arg's two arrows let him play them well himself. Finally, chips which allow an opponent to trash or upgrade wounds can reduce their effectiveness and weaken Arg's usual late-game advantage, so Now or Later and Training Day are usually better for Arg's opponent. Against Argagarg, most characters will want to pull out a defensive chip and pull in a rushdown chip, a training chip or Self-Improvement. Best Bank for Argagarg and Counter-picking for Argagarg Argagarg is fond of defensive chips which can drag the game on long enough for wounds to totally debilitate his opponent. Ebb or Flow and Safe Keeping are likely his favorite bank chips since they can drag the game longer. Iron Defense, Mixmaster and Gems to Gemonade are likewise great defensive options, but their higher cost and Arg's lack of + chips means they aren't always as accessible to Arg as soon as he would like. Argagarg will usually want to counter-pick out a rushdown chip or deck-improvement chip and counterpick in a defensive, tempo-slowing chip. Looking at the metagame for both and Free Character Head to Head A match between Valerie and Argagarg is moderately favorable to Argagarg, but there are many counter-picks Val can make to even it up. Self Improvement, Now or Later or Training Day let Valerie play reasonable Econ against Arg, while Risky Move, Riskonade, or Knockdown can give her adequate rushdown options. Overlap / Commonality Probably the most notable common enemy that this week's free characters have is DeGrey, whose Pilebunker prevents Valerie from playing economy and whose No More Lies vastly reduces the effect of Arg's wounds. Argagarg's worst matchup of Jaina tends to be favorable for Valerie, but her worst matchups aren't so bad for Argagarg. Grave and Setsuki are favorable against Valerie, but they are roughly even against Arg—albeit with a high variance due to the bank. So Grave and Setsuki should also be considerations against this week's free characters. An expansion character to look at is Gloria, whose can generally out-econ and out-cycle Valerie in the long game and who has s a and wound-trashing ability against Arg. So I'm adding a section below to start discussing relevant expansion characters. On the flipside, both Rook and Troq tend to have unfavorable matchups against both Arg and Val, so they might be characters to avoid this week. As for chips, both of this week's free characters do well with blue banner chips to play off of their blue arrows, and both can follow up chips with their red character chips, so when facing an opponent likely to switch between the free characters, consider pulling out blue banners and red arrows. Counter Counters For characters who have even or better games against Val and Argagarg and DeGrey, I would consider Gloria and Persephone. Since I am now repeating commentary on the free characters from the base set, I am adding discussion of an expansion character relevant to the current week's metagame. This Week's Relevant Expansion Character: Gloria Gloria Greyson is a radiantly strong economy character who is resilient against attacks. Worst Matchups Gloria has issues with the other really strong economy characters, as her helpful chips will often benefit them more than they benefit herself, so she tends to have a difficult time against Setsuki and Grave. She also has difficulty against characters who can threaten un--reactable crashes quickly, since that doesn't allow her to use Healing Touch to slow the game enough for her economic advantages to come into play. Thus she tends to have a difficult time against Midori, Rook, and sometimes Troq. Best Matchups Gloria's Saving Grace reaction lets her do well against characters who use their attacks to try to gain early game advantages: Vendetta, Menelker, DeGrey and Gwen. Her Healing Touch reaction helps against characters who have mini-crashes on their character chips: Valerie, Onimaru and Bal-Bas-Beta. Noobinators Against a naive Gloria, Quince has Flagstone Tax to limit her economic advantage and an extra arrow from Patriot Mirror to take advantage of any extra draws Gloria gives him. Worst Bank for Gloria and Counter-picking Against Gloria Gloria is unhappy if the bank has no blue chips, since that means that she can only use her for Saving Grace, which is not always wise. She's likewise unhappy if the bank is entirely low-cost chips, since that doesn't let her benefit from her economic potential. Gloria's biggest worry is rushdown chips which can deny her reactions, such as Riskonade, Combinatorics and Knockdown. Cheap economic ramp chips tend to benefit Gloria's opponent more than they benefit Gloria. Thus Risky Move, Sale Prices, and Training Day are less than ideal for Gloria. The cheaper forks can allow Gloria's opponent to make better use of any extra draws Gloria gives them via Saving Grace. So Gloria needs to be extra careful about playing Saving Grace if the opponent has Gem Essence, Button Mashing, One True Style or One Two Punch. Finally, Gloria can have difficulty against which force her to discard, such as Chip Damage and Color Panic, as those can negate the benefit which Saving Grace's reaction gives her. Against Gloria, most opponents will want to pull out a blue chip, or a high-cost chip and pull in a rushdown chip or a low-cost fork, although opponents with innate attacks might want to pull in s that they can use to make Gloria discard. Best Bank for Gloria and Counter-picking For Gloria Like a stockbroker, Gloria wants to see a lot of blue chips and high-cost things to buy. For blues, Gloria does well with Ebb or Flow, which lets her slow the tempo down to better benefit from her economy; Self-Improvement which revs her thindecking up, and Improvisation, which can let her build a deck that works on autopilot. Gloria also can do a lot with Really Annoying. She can play it off of her , an opponent playing it against her is likely to hit Saving Grace's + reaction, and in the long run Gloria builds a thinner deck from using Radiant Healing to trash s than an opponent does by trashing wounds. Just a Scratch offers similar advantages via wounding, but is unfortunately not blue. Ouch! is another chip which offers Gloria long-term advantages via wounding and also makes it harder for Gloria's opponent to combine to an uncounterable Since Gloria has a really strong economy and some thindecking potential, she usually does well with cantrips and other high-end chips. One of Each, Axe Kick, Roundhouse, Punch Punch Kick, It's Combo Time, and X-Copy are all strong for her against most opponents. Likewise, she can usually beat anyone aside from Grave or Setsuki in a race-to-the 12-cost ! chips game, and can often buy a 12 cost chip despite an opponent trying to disrupt her. Thus most of the time, Gloria will want to counterpick in either chip, a wounding chip or a high-cost chip. Until Next Week:May the chips fall your way.