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 Jaina and Rook. Jaina Jaina is the queen of rushdown, and so far the queen of the leaderboards. Worst Matchups: Jaina's worst matchups are against characters who have innate pile control and can therefore survive her initial rush to force her into a longer game. Her two worst matchups are probably Menelker and Zane. Menelker can use Deathstrike Dragon to survive massive pile height even early in the game and benefits more from several of Jaina's favorite bank chips. Zane can use Potato and Maximum Anarchy Cycling to make it harder for Jaina to pull off her big crash and he can use Crash Bomb to answer Unstable Power with his own form of Double Crash. Best Matchups Jaina's most favorable matchups are against characters who have issues surviving her blitz. Her best matchups are probably against Argagarg and Lum. Argagarg's Hex of Murkwood often backfires against Burning Vigor, and even when it doesn't, Jaina can still usually end the game before the wounds amount to much. Lum needs a lot of bank help to survive against Jaina's rush and is unlikely to be able to benefit much from Panda's Bargain if he needs to buy s defensively. Noobinators Against a naive Jaina, Valerie and Onimaru are great choices. They both have innate pile control to handle a big Unstable Power crash. Valerie will often tempt a newer Jaina player to counter with a similar deck-cycling style, even though that's inefficient for Jaina. Onimaru's Riposte punishes Burning Vigor and his Double Slash lets him make it long enough for Wartime Tactics decide the game. At higher skill levels these are both tend to be hard matchups for Jaina. Worst Bank For Jaina and Counter-picking Against Jaina Jaina has relatively low bank dependance as her three key chips tend to be the always available: Wound, Combine and -gem, however she is inconvenienced by a bank which lacks any brown or red to washers and also lacks s. She's also wary of certain defensive chips which can help her opponent against her rushdown: Iron Defense, Mixmaster, and Safe Keeping. Likewise, the chips which can make Burning Vigor backfire—Self-Improvement, Improvisation, and Ebb or Flow—are bad news for Jaina. Against Jaina most characters will want to pull out Knockdown, Signature Move or a washer. Although pulling out a washer is only meaningful if it's the only cheap washer in the bank—pulling out Safe Keeping when It's a Trap and Secret Move are still available does not limit Jaina in any way. Most characters will want to swap in a defensive chip such as Iron Defense or Ebb or Flow against Jaina. Best Bank for Jaina and Counter-picking for Jaina Jaina probably makes better use of Signature Move than any other character, since it lets her fetch her virtual double crash on demand and can also be used to line her character chips up in the most beneficial order. However at a $5 buy, another Combine is often higher priority for Jaina. She also does well with cheap washers, many of which have additional benefits for her. Safe Keeping and Secret Move wash Playing With Fire's Brown arrow and also offer her s to help time her big crash or line Burning Vigor up with a wound buy. Knockdown and Color Panic each offer the dual benefits of both washing Playing With Fire's red arrow and also limiting her opponent's chances to counter-crash. It's a Trap and Button Mashing serve not merely to wash, but also to thin her deck. In a couple of matches, Jaina does best to leverage her red arrow into disrupting her opponent or speeding up the game even further. Thus while not generally great for her, there are times when Just a Scratch, Sneak Attack, Chip Damage, Pick Your Poison, Ouch! or Stolen Purples tilt a match in Jaina's favor. When counter-picking Jaina will usually want to swap out a defensive chip and swap in a cheap or to arrow, although against characters who can't play s well, she may wish to consider those. Rook: The 3rd Edition version of Rook is still somewhat under-explored at high skill level matches. He tends to get dismissed as "simplistic" and therefore he isn't played much in tournaments or by top players, but this means that if you spend the time to truly master Rook, top players are likely to be under-prepared to play against him. Worst Matchups Rook's worst matchups are against characters who either have strong disruption or who can interfere with the timing of his Crash gems. Thus his worst two matchups are likely against Persephone and Vendetta. While not quite as rough for Rook, Valerie deserves an honorable mention here, since she has pile control to handle Rook's added ante and great synergy with many of the chips that pose problems for Rook. Best Matchups Rook's best matchups tend to be against late-game characters who don't have the pile control to cope with his rapid and repeated -gems. His best two matchups overall are probably against Quince and Gloria. Rook's added ante from Strength of Earth renders Quince's Flagstone Tax full of Romney-esque loopholes and lets Rook build to sending -gems which Gloria's Healing Touch reaction can't handle. Noobinators Against a naive Rook, things don't seem all that much different than against a skilled Rook, but since I should suggest alternate counterpicks: Argagarg's defensive disruption and Zane's ability to force cycling and Potato Crash gems are viable. Worst Bank for Rook and Counterpicking Against Rook Rook is unhappy in a bank with no forks nor to washers, since he has no innate fork and only one arrow on his character chips. In such a bank, his only real options are to mono-purple with Combines or to mono-gem to Double Crash and then mono-purple with Combines. Several chips can give Rook problems. He has real difficulty against wounding chips (Really Annoying, Just a Scratch, Ouch!), since his only deck-improvement ability is limited to [gems] and he can't cycle fast in the early turns, meaning that wounds will stack up rapidly. Chips that can deny Rook the opportunity to crash are also a problem, so Stolen Purples and to a lesser extent Chip Damage cause him problems. Interestingly enough, Rook does well against Color Panic, since his pair of purple character chips protect his Crash. Knockdown is a mixed bag for Rook, it can deny him the ability to slow the game with Stone Wall, but he can use it's well himself. And of course, the one chip Rook has the most trouble against is Mixmaster, which turns Strength of Earth into a liability. Against Rook most characters will want to pull out a fork or cantrip and pull in Mixmaster although wounding chips are also a thought. Best Bank for Rook and Counter-picking for Rook Rook benefits greatly from puzzle chip forks such as One-Two Punch, Button Mashing, Custom Combo and most of all Gem Essence, which has the added benefit that it removes small [gem]s gems from Rooks deck while Big Rocks upgrades his other gems giving him great money density. Rook's decent defense and good economy combine with his innate brown arrow to make cantrips very strong for him, One of Each, Roundhouse, Punch Punch Kick and even It's Combo Time tend to be both strong and affordable for Rook. In a bank with cantrips, Rook has reasonable odds of getting to one of the $12 cost gold chips against most characters. However, Rook's vulnerability to a variety of chips means that there are opponents and banks where he should consider swapping in a reaction to cover that vulnerability. Overall, Rook will most often want to counterpick out a and counterpick in either Gem Essence or a cantrip. Looking at the metagame for both Jaina and Rook Free Character Head to Head A match between Rook and Jaina will be close and bank dependent. Personally I think Jaina has a very slight edge due to her lower bank dependence and ability to use the s that give Rook trouble. However, my opinion is likely biased due to having personally played against a lot more high-skill players using Jaina than high-skill players using Rook. Overlap / Commonality This week, there is moderate overlap between bad matchups for the free characters and minor overlap between the bad matchups. Both Jaina and Rook have unfavorable matches against both Valerie and Zane, making them strong considerations to play if you want an advantage over this week's free characters. Vendetta is probably another better than even pick, but his match against Jaina depends largely on how Surgical Strike lines up. On the flip side, Quince is probably a character to avoid playing this week, since Flagstone Tax is largely ineffective against characters who can increase their own ante, and his -buy restriction leaves him vulnerable to rushdown. As for puzzle chips, there are notable differences in what gives each of the free characters advantages and disadvantages, but two striking similarities. Both of these free characters benefit from to washers, and both are threatened by Mix-Master. That suggests a relatively obvious counter-picking chip swap to tilt the game towards or away from either one. Counter Counters Since Valerie, Zane, and Vendetta are probably the best picks against this week's free characters, it's tempting to suggest strong pure econ characters to counter those, however most of the truly strong econ characters are vulnerable to Jaina's blazing fast rush or Rook's slower pressure rush, making that idea questionable at best. Instead I would suggest Onimaru or Persephone. Onimaru tends to do well in the long game due to Wartime Tactics gaining more utility as the game goes on, while Riposte helps him against the strategies used by Jaina or against Rook and Double Slash gives him enough pile control to get to the lategame. Persephone is good against Val, Zane and Vendetta due to her advantages in the long game and superiority in battles of s vs s, however she's a bit riskier against the free characters, since she lacks innate pile control and Jaina can turn wounding into extra ante. Until Next Week:May the chips fall your way.