In Yomi, Jaina was arguably one of the most powerful characters in the game, and also one of the easiest to misplay. By coincidence, she's ended up in pretty much the same boat for PS. While Jaina is ridiculously powerful, I see people making obvious mistakes with her more than any other character. Here are 10 of them:
1. Using Unstable Power too early.
Imagine you are in this situation: Your hand is four 1-gems and an Unstable Power. The pile count is tied at 3 - 3 (no combines yet), and there is a tantalizing Roundhouse in the pool. Don’t you want it? DON’T YOU?!?!?
Actually, NO, you don’t! Just think about it for a second: Roundhouse is a powerful chip because it cycles two chips through your deck. However, if you gain two wounds to go with your Roundhouse, the net average effect is actually ZERO.
Don’t worry, it’s even worse than that. PS is a game dominated by pile bonus. Often, you should avoid crashing just to deny pile bonus to your opponent. In the game-state I just mentioned, using Unstable Power will not only deny yourself a bonus draw, but in the best case scenario of him not counter-crashing (more on that later), he will end his turn on 6 pile and get an additional bonus draw for himself! So, in addition to advancing your deck quality by nothing, this plan has immediately denied you a draw and given it to your opponent. fffffffff...
But wait! You say. I can just trash those wounds later! Yes, yes, very clever. But consider this: even if you are lucky and draw your wounds before you draw Burning Vigor, it will still take two full cycles to actually do this. By this time, not only will you probably need to use Unstable Power again, but you will be almost certainly be in the endgame, where Jaina is not favored. Weren’t you supposed to be the aggressive character?
2. Not buying a wound when you are (probably?) going to draw Burning Vigor next turn.
This is actually a mistake that I do all the time. And every time I do it, it makes me rage. But what makes me rage harder is that plenty of beginner Jaina players skip buying a wound and don’t even realize they are making a mistake.
Unlike crashing, the ante from a Burning Vigor activation speeds up the tempo of the game. This is a good thing, and you should be doing it whenever you can! Furthermore, the black arrow from Burning Vigor acts as a “washer” for red arrows, which can be crucial when you draw it with Playing with Fire or some other red arrow.
If you have 4 money or more, you should probably buy something else with your wound. At 3 money or less, however, you should often skip buying anything else to keep your deck slim. The less subpar cheap chips that clog up your deck, the more powerful it will be.
There are times when it is ambiguous whether you should buy a wound or not. For instance, maybe Burning Vigor is one of nine chips left in your bag, and you will be drawing 6 chips this turn. Should you buy a wound?
If you get unlucky and Burning Vigor is in the bottom of your bag, you will have shot yourself in the foot with that wound buy, and probably won’t be able to purge it for at least 2 cycles (since you will be drawing Burning Vigor at the beginning of the next cycle). However, as I’ve mentioned above, being able to use Burning Vigor is often a big enough effect that it’s worth the risk. Some things to consider:
- Is it late-game or early game? The later in the game it is, the more important ante is and the less important a wound in your bag is.
- Do you have a cycler in your bag to potentially let you see even more chips (e.g. Playing with Fire)?
- Are there red arrows in your bag that Burning Vigor will let you wash (e.g. Playing with Fire, again)? Are there big non-red actions that you will want to play left in your bag? (e.g. Unstable Power)
- How much money do you have? The less powerful your buy is, the more inclined you should be to ONLY buy a wound to keep your deck slim.
Here are some examples. Again, let's say you are drawing 6 and there are 9 chips left.
1. Both players are at 5 pile. You have a 3-gem in your pile and the remaining chips in your bag are: Sneak Attack x2, Unstable Power, Combine, Playing with Fire, BV, 1-gem 3x. It's clear that you need to buy a wound here (note you have a bigger than 2/3 chance because PWF might draw into it). There is a big likelihood that you'll need to wash a red arrow.
2. Same situation, except this time you look in the bag and see BV and a bunch of 1-gems. Now it’s probably not worth the risk.
3. Overplaying with Fire (u c wat I did there?)
Make no mistake, Playing with Fire is a powerful effect. I mentioned earlier that anteing into your opponent’s pile sped up the game, which favored you. Well, it turns out that anteing into your own pile still speeds up the game and still favors you!
However, as the name implies, this move can be a bad idea. You might assume I am just talking about the ante, but actually this move can be bad in other counterintuitive ways. Here is a common example that trips up a lot of new players:
Your opening hand is 2 1-gems, Burning Vigor, Crash Gem, Unstable Power. You don’t see anything interesting in the bank, so you crash and buy a 2-gem. Your opponent doesn’t crash, so next hand you have 4 1-gems and Playing with Fire, and a single  in your pile. Should you use Playing with Fire? Really, think about this situation for a few seconds.
NO, you shouldn’t! The reason for this is not because of the ante, but because of the +draw! Right now, your deck sucks. It’s just the starting deck plus a relatively uninteresting 2-gem. Not all is lost here, as you will have a powerful 4-buy in your deck soon enough (Combine, or maybe something even juicier like Ouch!). However, drawing a chip here will reshuffle your deck! As a result, if you draw a chip now, you will have to wait a full cycle before you even get a chance to see whatever you bought this turn!
The other key weakness of Playing with Fire is that often you won’t have a way to “wash” the brown and red arrows into purple ones. An absolute disaster is if you use Playing with Fire and draw a combine off of it that you can’t play! As such, you should consider just not playing the chip if there is a significant chance this will happen.
4. Letting them countercrash
This is almost a universal rule of proper rushdown: try to keep their countercrashes to a minimum! Just as anteing 1-gems into your pile or your opponent’s speeds up the game, removing 1-gems from the game slows it down. The more this happens, the more the defensive character is favored.
Most of the time, your opponent cannot pressure you. You have a double crash gem in your deck - if they try to out-aggro you, they are going to lose every time. As such, the only real reason to ever crash at an opponent in the early game is because you need the money. If you don’t need the money, it’s better to just not crash than risk a countercrash.
This is yet another reason why using Unstable Power too early is a terrible play: it opens you up to a countercrash, which can be lethal for an early-game character.
5. Not buying enough combines.
A corollary to “don’t let them countercrash” is “crash 4’s to kill them.” How do you crash 4’s? You buy combines (or combine effects, like One True Style/Mixmaster), of course.
A lot of people think that playing aggro means crashing as much as possible. Actually, the defensive character should be crashing (and countercrashing) as much as possible. Jaina only really needs to crash once: for the win, with a massive uncounterable Unstable Power.
You don’t get to crash 6 at them if you don’t combine, however. As such, you should be buying a ton of combines. Yes, it will hurt your economy, but you don’t need to care about that if they fall over dead after a single massive crash.
6. Crashing too early
This is related to, but not completely the same as “minimize their countercrashes.” Sometimes, I see people use Unstable Power on a 3-gem and a 1-gem when they are not under any immediate pressure. Unless you are sure this will kill them, don’t do this! It’s usually better to wait for one more combine to have an uncounterable crash. Again, if you are sure it’s lethal, or if you are going to die if you don’t crash it, go ahead. But for the most part, treat 2-gems and 3-gems as precious crops that aren’t ready to be harvested.
This actually goes a step further: it's possible to even crash a 4-gem too early! For instance, someone might use their regular Crash Gem to crash a 4, even though they are drawing Unstable Power and combines later in the cycle. Most of the time you are far better off using Unstable Power for a monster double-crash.
Remember, the longer you wait to crash, the more your opponent has to ante before you finally rock him out. If you’re not going to die, just wait patiently and combine some more. Often your uncounterable 6-crash will be lethal when a regular 4-crash wouldn’t have worked.
7. Who’s the rushdown?
In Magic, there is a famous strategy piece called “Who’s the Beatdown?” The article claims that in every round, one player should be trying to end the game quickly while the other player should be dragging it out as long as possible. It further makes the claim that improperly evaluating your role will result in a loss.
In PS, the same thing is true. Jaina is almost always the rushdown, and plays that are automatic for more econ-oriented characters become disastrous when applied to her. For instance, buying a 3-gem over combine is usually suicide. Even a mighty chip like Combos are Hard is often a worse buy on Jaina than Combine. You already have a Double Crash Gem, after all!
Of course, the opposite is true as well. Chips that are usually quite bad for an econ character (e.g. Sneak Attack, Risk to Riskonade) become very potent when used by her.
That said, there are times when you might favor econ over rushdown. Against excellent defensive characters like Menelker, Onimaru, or Valerie, your standard gameplan is often not a real option. As such, even though you are pretty terrible at engine building, sometimes it’s correct to try to play for the lategame. Even against these characters, however, you should be looking for opportunities to rushdown. If they get too greedy in their builds, or if there are strong attacks in the pool, go for the throat! It's what you do best.
Finally, you might want to enter full-blown defense mode if the other character is also aggressive (another Jaina, for instance). In these cases, you should throw out Unstable Power much earlier than before to keep your pile low. You also might want to use Crash Gem even when you don't need the money.
8. Poor arrow management
Yes, you have a fork in your deck. No, that doesn’t mean you should buy three Now or Laters. Generally, you should have a maximum of one brown ender and one red ender in your deck. Preferably, you should only have one or the other, and plan on using the other arrow to wash into purples.
On a related note, red and brown washers are very strong with Jaina and are hard to overrate. On the red side, Knockdown and Color Panic are very powerful options that would be worth buying even if they didn’t wash arrows. Secret Move and Safe Keeping aren't perfect fits, but are cheap enough to buy even if you only plan on using them for the arrow and pig. One of Each can be pricey (you have to buy it over a combine), but is often worth it.
You are the aggressive character and should be playing aggressively. But that doesn’t mean you need to go nuts. Just like in Yomi, Jaina is about knowing how far you can push your luck before smart aggressive play becomes suicide.
For instance, countercrashing is often a bad play if it denies you pile bonus next turn. But if you are at 6 or higher, you have all of the pile bonus you need. Go ahead and countercrash, so you don't lose to a freak draw. You probably don’t care about the money at this point, so using the crash in your action phase is probably a waste of time (remember, you want to minimize crashes before you blow up the world with a massive double crash).
I often countercrash even if I am not in immediate danger of dying. I tend to do it as long as:
- I am not immediately denying myself pile bonus.
- I don’t need the money.
- There won’t be a combine stranded in my hand.
The reason for this is that I enjoy having the wiggle room of getting two gems in my gem pile that are as big as possible, even if a countercrash denies me a pile bonus somewhere down the road. It is a nice luxury to see that you could crash a 4 and a 1 at them this turn, but can wait a cycle and crash a 4 and a 3 at them then. At that point, they will have ante’d even more, and a 7 crash is nearly always fatal! But you can only go for it if you countercrash some of the gems that your opponent is sending at you.
10. Not playing enough Jaina (no, really!)
This was how I ended my other Jaina guide, but I think it is even more true here than it was in Yomi. Jaina, in my opinion, is the premium aggro character in PS. If you are interested in rushing down, this is the character to learn first. However, the fact that she is easy to misplay can lead a lot of would be Jaina players to give up and move on to easier aggro characters like Rook or Vendetta.
This is a mistake! Jaina is not only incredibly powerful, but has challenging decisions as well. This makes her both a fun and sensible choice for someone looking to succeed at a high level.
What a great article. It has lots of nice tips for Jaina players and really shows why she is one of the more challenging characters to manage since she has lots of hard descisions and counter intuitive choices must be made.
Timothy 'Peachy' Devery
This was a very good read. I'd love to see something like this for other characters, too.