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Getting to Diamond: Defense Mechanism

Brother Null

Active Member
Sep 6, 2018
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Defense is a tricky thing in Rifts.

Part of the problem stems for the fact that you do not (and cannot) receive feedback on the relative merits of one configuration versus another. There is no algorithm that returns a single numeric representation of your defensive velocity that updates as you change your defensive posture. The only measure we get are two data points from your opponent: Battle Score and Defense Wins.

These numbers can tell us some valuable information, but the feedback is both sparse and after the initial collision. You get the first number only after the battle is over, and the second only after the battle has commenced. It is too late to change now, your defense has been set.

So, in this light, all fine-tuning must take place after the fact. We set our map, we play for a period of time, we take mental note of our defense, we make adjustments. In my mind, there is no reason to make adjustment more than once per season. I find it a stimulating exercise to review my map as the season ends, thus preparing myself for the next season. Meticulous defenders might record the details of every Rift battle over a season, but I find it easy enough to remember which nodes were the ones that required more than one attempt to vanquish.

But, what does the best defense look like?

Let's make this one thing clear: there is no such thing as a perfect defense. Your Rift map may be a finely tuned beast of a map, but there are still plenty of players who will clear it without missing a step.

But, more likely, your map is a combination of inspired strategy on certain nodes and a scattering of random forces everywhere else. This is quite common, and nothing to be ashamed of. We all need twenty fighters, and most of us do not have twenty diamond champions with sweet moves and an Signature Ability that dovetails with the chosen node modifier. We will have to make do.

I am not going to get into specific defensive fighters for this thread. Instead, I am going to lay the foundations for understanding how to make your defensive choices. It starts, simply enough, with a clear definition for what your defensive job is.

There are two distinct schools of thought regarding Rift defense. The first school is the most obvious: the job of the defense is to make the opponent lose the fight. This, in my opinion is naive and short-sighted. The second school, and the one that I wish to explore in greater detail, is less well understood. The job of a good defense is to make the opponent pay for winning.

Wait, what? Pay how?

Well, think of this: there are ten fights that must occur in order for a player to clear a map. If you win a match without clearing all ten nodes then you should consider yourself one of the lucky few: it is not a common means of winning in Diamond. So, in these ten fights, how can we get an advantage over an opponent? We make them pay: we demand that they use an important resource before they were planning to, or we cost them valuable Battle Points in the fighting.

Resources, like our "can-opener" fighters, are limited in number. If we can force our opponent to use their Bloodbath or Surgeon before they intended, then they have to re-evaluate their approach and maybe even re-use their fighters. That's 250 points earned, and that can make for a huge advantage in a particular battle. Those points are valuable, and we prevented an opponent from earning them. We made them pay.

The cost of fighting a particular node can take other forms. Since we score points for time taken, health remaining, Blockbuster finishes, and even combo count, we can build a defense that tries to deny one or more of these point sources. Let us explore each value in detail.

Combo Count:
It feels silly, I know. Just how lucrative is Combo Count anyways? Not very, since many players will struggle to get thirty strikes in before the AI turns to punish. But remember, we are trying to get to Diamond, and one can expect combo bonus to reach 50 on a regular basis. So total combo value might vary from 250-500 points for the entire map.

That's not a lot, and as a defender it would be crazy to expect a reduction of that number to anything below 150 points. So, we are talking about a very thin margin for defensive gain.

Thankfully, we have a very easy strategy to employ: Burst. These moves are used by the AI at near-perfect timing, so they disrupt a player's tempo and break their combo streak. There are a number of other reasons to use these moves, but here they have a quantifiable defensive value by prematurely interrupting a player's combo count.

Blockbuster Finish:
This category has a distinct value and a distinct trigger, so it is an easy category to analyze. One hundred points per fight is significant, and anything we can do to force our opponent to pay this cost is an immediate and lasting benefit.

The most obvious cases are those fights where a Blockbuster finish is technically impossible to achieve. Certain fighters in the Immunity Node can create this point trap, where the defender can get Invincibility or Final Stand and your first instinct is to use Eliza with Chaos Banish to ensure that your Banish strike is fatal.

Fatal, yes. Blockbuster, no. So much for your 100 point bonus.

Wither and Blockbuster denial are other useful strategies, but they are much more situation-dependent. Cerebella will still need to throw a player, Ivy League will still need to generate (and detonate) her tears. You can set this situation up, but it is up to the AI to recognize and use these strategies.

One specific case that I find amusing is Merry Go-Rilla. The Cerebella AI loves a command grab, and MGR is great for that. MGR also qualifies as a throw, so Bella's marquee will spoil a player's meter as well. We cannot guarantee perfect timing, but we can certainly make things more difficult for the attacking player. We may not spoil all of the Blockbuster finishes, but we can give the AI a fighting chance.

Before we move on, I want to mention a false strategy that must be refuted in full. No serious Rift player should consider this strategy as anything other than a sucker bet. I am speaking of the defensive use of weak fighters.

The thought of weak fighters as a way to deny the Blockbuster Finish bonus has obvious logic, but equally thoughtless consequence. I have encountered an unleveled Scrub in the first single node in an otherwise rational player's map. I was, indeed, denied the 100 points for killing her without the use of a blockbuster.

I dried my tears with all of the extra health and time bonus points that I would have lost had I been faced with a real challenger. It is a fundamentally flawed strategy, and you can do much better.

Health and Time are two other point values that are simply too big to fit here. We will tackle each one in separate posts. While we wait, what is your favorite Blockbuster trap? Comment below, and throw me a "like" if this has helped you with your defense.