First, shout-outs to Vysetron for writing a really good Rook guide which is now lost to time, but which I used as a starting point for this post. This guide is essentially going to be a series of expanded thoughts on his thoughts about Rook's gameplan.
Big thanks also go out to @LK4O4 for his Gloria guide, which inspired me to write something with a different kind of format than the standard character guide. His Gloria 201 guide is an exercise regimen meant to point out the nuances of her cards and abilities, with a strong emphasis of her powerful endgame potential. This is my best attempt at the same, except Rook is much simpler (hence Rook 101).
At the time I wrote this, I played primarily v2 Rook. I learned a lot about Yomi by playing this character, and his style of play is one that I gravitate to. Even if you don't end up falling in love with this character, I think he is an excellent pick for players who want to practice the following skills: patience, hand and resource management, gaining and exploiting card advantage, and conditioning.
If I'm wrong about something, or there's a section that feels like it's missing, or you'd just like to talk about how great Rook is, this is an excellent place to post thoughts, questions, or critiques.
I put together a YouTube video some time after writing this post. It also covers some basics like the various cards in Rook's deck in greater detail than the guide below. I still think you will get something out of the guide after watching it, but if you skip one or the other, you'll still end up in the same place.
"Block a lot. Throw sometimes. Only attack with a big hand." - Vysetron
Simple. Elegant. Broadly true. I looked at this sentence, and thought I knew everything there was to know about Rook, and missed dozens of obvious things that hurt my play. And I mean, really freaking obvious things.
Everything about Rook is built around Rock Armor.
For two cards, Rook gets to pretend he won combat unless he's knocked down. There are plenty of characters that dish out more hurt on a combat win and a good hand, but Rook gets to do it on a combat loss! Eat your heart out Vendetta! (Shut up Onimaru...) His combo damage maxes out at 24 (10J10, 10Q+), but tends to sit around 20 (678, J78, 4Q+). Depending on the life differential between him and his opponent, it can make even lopsided trades favourable for the golem.
Being able to trade life with Rock Armor is crucial to Rook's game, so keep your hand size up, your life high, and make sure your cards will let you capitalize on a Rock Armor attempt. His Jack is one of your most valuable and versatile cards: your only linker, it pulls double duty as an answer to normals - especially mix-up normals - and it's the only card that will let you combo into your 10s without using them as a combat reveal. His Queen is much more valuable as an ender, as it can turn any of your normals into respectable damage. Look for straights where you can, as there are few cards in your deck that you can power up without consequence.
The lower your opponents life, the lower your hand needs to be to threaten checkmate with Rock Armor. Having a Joker in hand means you can usually threaten a lethal Rock Armor combo even when you're at around 10 HP! And the worse your opponent's hand quality, the better your Rock Armor trades will be. At a minimum, know and keep track of the attacks your opponent can knock down with, whether they're starters/linkers/enders, and which of your attacks can outspeed them (if any).
When you have Rock Armor
In the mid-game, if you have a hand size of 9+, your opponent should be considering Rock Armor in their play. Know what they can do to stop it. Can they combo into knockdown? Do they only knockdown with starters? Which of their abilities can stop you (Chains of Ice, Final Authority, etc.)? Do they have a hand that would make even a successful Rock Armor a bad trade? Do they have a single Ace attack?
The match-up will really dictate what kind of tools you can bring to bear here. 5 block may come into your range against Ace attacks, Rook's AA attack against opponents with slower Aces or knockdown moves, King against people fishing to hit-confirm into a knockdown. Rook's throw game can feel a little safer here, as 10 damage and knockdown against a grappler becomes a preferable option to trading with Rock Armor, or even worse for Rook's foes, throwing into a high normal attack. And suddenly the high efficiency, low damage throws make sense; they let you defend against throws and destroy your opponent's blocks without degrading your hand size!
Don't totally undervalue blocking at high hand, even max hand! There are definitely diminishing returns: you only marginally increase your hand quality if successful, while your opponent has an opportunity to throw you and potentially improve their hand quality to a greater degree than yours by blocking. However, against characters with knockdown attacks faster than your AA attack (0.8 speed), or abilities that can beat your throw/Rock Armor mix up, you may still come out ahead. Also, Gold Bursting is extremely effective against Rook, as his max damage is fairly low (so blue burst won't prevent much damage), and it's most likely to catch an attack/throw when Rook is on high hand.
When you don't have Rock Armor
The only reliable way to build to Rock Armor is to block, because Rook's normal attacks are slow and will give your opponent more cards if they're blocked. Rook's blocks generally require a response from his opponent, generally in the form of throws or blocks of their own. Because Defense Mastery makes normal attacks card neutral, and can harm the opponent's hand quality, blocking against Rook is the most reliable way to build a hand.
The opponent can really do damage with a throw here. Rook has 4 dedicated blocks (his 9s), 8 pretty good blocks (his 4s and 2s), and 4 blocks he really wants to hold on to (his 8s). A 9 block says the least about your hand, and an 8 the most, as it's such a strong Rock Armor or combo candidate. Protecting yourself with throws opens you up to an opponents normals, but at least wins against opponents who are looking for a better hand as well.
I like to call this phase of the game the Knife Ballet.
When Rock Armor won't save you
So you're in potential lethal range and your opponent is sitting at 40+ life. This gets match-up specific, but you're going to need to do work with your AA attack, to at least make them think twice about throwing normals and slower face cards at you.
Your cards have suddenly drastically changed in value. Your normal attacks are all fodder for power up, and your Queens and Jacks are more likely to get conscripted into combat reveals. Make sure that you're exploiting either your hidden AA, or the fact that your AA is known in order to land unexpected damage or get successful blocks off. Your special blocks (5s and 3s) are going to be crucial in preventing victories by chip damage. Make your opponent sweat by powering up for all four Aces, and if you can catch them blocking or throwing with Checkmate Buster, you might still win it!
Managing Your Hand for Rock Armor
So we've established that we want to be at around 9 or more cards before going for RA so that our combat win doesn't cripple our hand and let off the pressure on our opponent. However, you don't want to go for Rock Armor unless you have some actual damage to deal, so wait until you have at least a straight, or J10, or Q/Q+ in hand before you commit to it. Try to block with suits you can afford to lose to a throw, and that aren't going to be used in the RA combo you're building towards.
Except in specific circumstances where it either kills the opponent, or puts them at 24/20/15/10 health, or you've played it raw, I wouldn't pump Rook's Queen. If you have comfortable life left, or a joker in hand, you're probably going to get a chance to make up the 4 damage. This is probably a matter of taste; but I would only pump Q if the card you're throwing away is adding little to your hand, or it's the difference between putting them within lethal range and not.
Super-good technology for Rock Armor straights is discarding an Ace to use Rock Armor for that turn. That means you'll only throw away one card, as the straight will get you the discarded Ace back at the end of combat. Finally, a way to use those AAAA hands that doesn't involve Checkmate Buster! Heck, if you Rock Armor enough of your opponent's "please don't AAAA me" attacks, you could even consider playing it! (Probably don't though. Just King throw instead.)
In circumstances where you absolutely want to Rock Armor but only have 1 shared suit to work with, keep in mind that if you have a pair you're willing to power up with, you can go hunting for an Ace of the suit you need. Rook's AA attack is very, very good! So really think about the situation you're getting yourself into, and what powering up is going to do to your opponent's range! Are you now relying on them not having a blue burst? Will you be stuck in a low card hand and unable to finish the game if it doesn't work? Think twice!
Special Blocks and Knockdown
These were big stumbling blocks in my play. These cards are very important - that's obvious. As mentioned above, Rook's 3, 5, and Joker are the only way to prevent lethal chip damage. Jokers do an incredible amount of work for Rook as Blue Bursts, either resulting in significant life advantage on a successful Rock Armor, or preventing life loss on combos that end in a knockdown. So, the blocks are very valuable late game!
First, which of these is better is very match-up specific. Against some of the cast a successful 3 block makes rook's 4 or 5 a real mix-up threat. Against some of the cast a successful 5 block deals convincing damage, which in turn means better Rock Armor pressure if it discourages people from playing Aces to prevent it. Likewise some characters have a range of options against the 3 block's effect, and lack the damage output that make a 5 block worth it. Know which match-ups are which, and value your cards accordingly! In which match-ups should you power up your 3s or your 5s? In which match-ups should you use a 5 attack, or a 3 throw?
Because 3 blocking is the only way for Rook to knock down without normal throwing, it is much more likely to be used as a block. Even against characters with moves faster than 1.0 speed, it is invaluable in setting up very strong Rock Armor turns, or chip damage victories, as his J and Q become 1.0 speed attacks. Rook's attacks are heavily weighted on evens (4,6,8,10) compared to odds (5,7); so it's important to value your 5 correctly! In some match-ups, it is essentially worthless as an attack, and in others as a block.
Thanks for reading!
How does Rook do against the rest of the cast (in my opinion)
Concepts to keep in mind when evaluating how hard a match-up is for Rook
How hard is it to Rock Armor?
1. Does the character have a single A move that beats attacks (attack, block, or dodge)?
2. Does the character have an attack that knocks down? Is it an ender?
How effective are Rook's 5 blocks?
1. Does the character have counters?
2. Does the character deal large damage off their average combat reveal?
3. Is the character looking to deal chip damage in neutral?
How effective is Rook's K throw?
1. Is the character likely to play Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces as combat reveals (large single damage, or leads into good combos)?
How effective are Rook's J and Q as a combat reveals?
1. Does the character have good options off 2.5 speed attacks or faster? (Ties against his Q are generally Rook favoured.)
2. Does the character have good options off 2.2 speed or faster? (Rook loses ties on J reveal because it deals little damage on its own.)
How effective is Rook's AA (and by extension AAAA)?
1. Does the character have a lot of attacks that are faster than 0.8 speed?
2. Does the character have a lot of dodges? Are they able to deal significant damage after dodging?
How significant of a life lead does Rook have, in real terms?
1. Does the character have a "real" life difference of 20+, ~15, or ~10?