This is the first 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, Rabid Schnauzer looks at Valerie and Geiger. Valerie 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. 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. Geiger 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 Setsku can use Double-take to get more use of key bank chips than Geiger can from It's Time for the Past and beat Geiger on either economy or chips. Best Matchups Geiger's R&D gives him some defense against rushdown and his versatility lets him adapt to the bank better than many of the generalist characters. His best matchup is probably Lum, but with a little bank help he's got the advantage over moderate rushdown characters like Rook and Troq. 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 and Development. At higher skill levels, this match is closer, but still usually in Oni'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 moderately 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), 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). Geiger will frequently want to counterpick out a chip which can make him discard and replace it with Axe Kick or Dashing Strike. Free Character Head to Head This might be my personal bias, but in a head to head matchup, between this week's free characters, I think Valerie generally has a slight advantage. Geiger does better if he can use It's Time for the Past on an econ ramp chip early. Val does better if there's a trashing chip available. Overlap / Commonality This week, the common enemies overlap completely. Both Val and Geiger have bad matchups against Setsuki and Grave. So if you want to beat people playing the free characters, play or . Both Val and Geiger are decent against rushdown characters, so if you're worried about losing to the free characters avoid playing Jaina or Troq. As for puzzle chips and banks, both Val and Geiger use upgrading chips well, so against the free characters Chips for Free and Training Day should be considerations to counterpick out in many matchups. Val has an innate fork and Geiger has a pair of washers, so they both play enders well, and you should consider counterpicking in cheap forks against them. Counter Counters Grave and Setsuki are the probably best bets against this week's free characters. Against those two the best bets are usually all-in rushdown characters like Jaina and Midori, so if you're playing the metagame to try beat players who are trying to beat the free characters those are characters to consider. However both Valerie and Geiger are reasonably solid against rushdown so that can backfire. Safer but less obvious options to choose against all four of those characters might be Vendetta or Menelker. Vendetta can put a surgical rush together against Grave or Setsuki, can use disruption effective against Geiger, and tends to benefit from Val's best chips just as much as she does. Menelker can crimp Geiger's or Val's econ with Bonecracker and can try to use Deathstrike Dragon on the offense to win quickly vs Grave or Setsuki.