Psychology of the Fight: How To Use and Avoid Mental Manipulation (Part 1)

NOTE: Although the original intent of this article was meant to help Cardfight!! Vanguard players when it was written, the concepts described in this article can be applied to any card game.

Over my years of cardfighting, I have noticed that players seem to alter their playstyle by the smallest things their opponent does, and some opponents do these things on purpose. I’m here to point out how to use and counter these ways of manipulating your opponent’s playstyle in your favor in a match of Cardfight!! Vanguard.

Play Speed


Let’s say you’re playing a slow, conservative generation break deck, and your opponent is playing a deck like beast deities. As soon as they ride grade 2, they rapidly place their cards down and immediately start attacking your vanguard, ignoring your rearguards. The turn is over in 15 seconds, and it’s your turn. You ride quickly, call out your hand quickly just like they did in the heat of the moment, and attack their vanguard with all of your units. You have just altered your conservative/control playstyle by copying your opponent’s moves. This happens a lot more often than you may think, and some players will do this on purpose to rile you up and make you misplay.

Humans tend to emulate what other humans do and feel, based on actions and appearances. Most generation break decks focus on controlling the  in the early game, and counter aggro* decks by attacking rearguards. But because you’ve been flustered by your opponent’s speed, you copy their movements as to feel like you’re not falling behind.

How to Counter:

Countering this is very easy. Once you know this happens, all you have to do is ignore it and play like you would normally in that situation. On the other side of the spectrum, if you are playing a G break deck and your opponent is playing an aggro* deck, playing slowly may affect their mental momentum, and cause them to misplay as well out of frustration from your slow play.

How to Take Advantage:

If your opponent does not know about this way of influencing people, you can bait them into committing more cards to the field than they would normally by altering your play speed.

How You Hold Your Cards

Situation 1:

You have all your combo pieces ready to go. The opponent is at five damage. You stride your best G Unit you’ve been waiting for all game to use. Your opponent’s hand is collapsed (like a closed fan) and in their hand against the table. You’ve been wanting to do this combo all game, and they seem to not have enough cards to guard all of your attacks. You decide to go all in, but your opponent somehow manages to block it all and kill you with his or her powerful stride. After the match, the opponent says that he or she had 13 cards in hand during that turn.

By holding the hand of cards collapsed, it caused you to misjudge the size at a glance, and your excitement to pull of your combo distracted you from asking how many cards they had in their hand. Also, be careful of double sleeves, as they can make it seem as though they have more cards in their hand than they really have when they are stacked on top of one another.

Situation 2:

You have all your combo pieces ready to go. The opponent is at five damage. However, your opponent is flaunting their easy-to-count thirteen card hand up high in a fan-style way of holding them. Because of this, you decide to hold off on your best G Unit and instead go for a more safe play to tear down their hand size for the next turn. At the end of the turn they have 8 cards left, and they pull an insane combo with most of those cards and you lose. You notice all of them have 5000 shield, and after the match the show you their four grade 3’s they had in hand during your last turn.

By flaunting their hand, it caused you to rethink your strategy, and it made you change your playstyle entirely. What you didn’t realize is that they only had one perfect guard, 4 grade three units, and a bunch of 5000 shields/combo pieces**. If you had gone all in, the opponent would have had to guard with all of those combo pieces, ruining their potential combination plays, and potentially allowing you to win the game.

How to Counter:

Situation 1: Always keep your cool, and ask your opponent how many cards they have in their hand before making big plays.

Situation 2: Try to remember what your opponent has in their hand throughout the game based on drive checks (see article titled Open Hand, Closed Hand for more information), and be suspicious when your opponent all of a sudden flaunts their hand size at the start of your turn.

How to Take Advantage:

Situation 1: If you have a large hand size and you know you can guard whatever attacks your opponent will throw at you, it is good to collapse it so that you can mislead your opponent into thinking how many cards you have in hand. Sometimes players forget to even check their opponent’s hand size because it is not in their face this way.

Situation 2: If you have a large hand size but a low amount of guard, it is good to flaunt the hand as much as possible to the opponent, so that they are deterred from making any power plays that might kill you. This doesn’t work all the time, as some people may take you up on that challenge and go all in anyways.

So that’s all for this week, although there are many more ways you can be affected by these subtle mind games. Stay tuned for more in the future!

*This refers to decks that mainly on focus on aggressive attacking strategies. This is similar to aggro decks in Magic: The Gathering, as defined here:
**This refers to units that are used to accomplish attack combinations.
Featured image is that of the card Mindgames from Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. All rights belong to Blizzard Entertainment. Image is provided at Image may have been resized.

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