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My adventure to a 525/advice/knowledge/life tips

Howdy y’all, this was an email that I sent to all my friends that are studying right now/beginning to prepare, so please excuse the language and how personal it is. Some of my friends thought it would be helpful to post on here, and I'm all about sharing the love, so I thought why not. I'm swamped with secondaries right now (I waited until I got my score yesterday to submit them), but I will try to reply to anyones comments ASAP as possible.
Greetings friends. After a tumultuous summer I finally got my MCAT score back, and I did well enough that I feel comfortable sharing my MCAT journey and all the resources I used. I got a 525, so I like to think I might have an idea of what I’m talking about and am not full of shit. If you have any questions just let me know, we’re all in this together. I’m gonna try to break this email up by sections, but there’s a chance I might ramble so just deal with it.
A couple things to start off with:
No one really talks about this but I thought the most important thing is to have a GROWTH MINDSET 😤. No but really, if you wanna do well you need to have confidence in yourself. If you don’t believe that you can get a good score then you probably won’t. Obviously you should set realistic goals and don’t become depressed when you don’t get a 528, but I’ve always thought it was best to aim high.
Another thing is that the MCAT isn’t really a test of intelligence, it’s just a test of your work ethic. Before I did any studying I thought I’d be fine since I’ve done well in all my undergraduate classes. NOPE. Even if you have a 4.0, there will be so, so many things you haven’t seen before that you need to learn. I’ve seen a lot of people consign themselves to lower score because they think they’re not as smart as other people. Even if it doesn’t come as easily to you, if you work at it you can do better than you think.
On that note, you need to cut the bullshit out of your life and make the MCAT a priority. One thing that really helped free up my time was when I stopped going out 3 days a week. We all love the Wednesday night harp show but know what I love more? Having a stable future. It is sucky, and you won’t have as much time for your friends or relationships. This means you can’t be hanging out with the broskis every other day, you can’t be fucking your ex at 1am, and as mentioned you won’t going to the bars or parties. Yeah it is AIDS, and I’m still salty that I barely hit the bars last semester especially when they are closed for the foreseeable future. However, if you want to do the best you can then need to eliminate distractions. I was lucky enough that I have a great support system, friends, and family to help me through this process. They understood when I couldn’t hang or didn’t text back for a week, and they didn’t get pissed because they knew I had to grind. I have stories of people with friends or significant others that can’t take the lack of contact and it causes problems - I can’t tell you what to do but if that happens to you I would suggest reevaluating who you hang out with and if they have your best goals in mind.
Things that are helpful before you even start studying
Depending on who you are, there is a chance you are getting this email ahead of time before you even need to worry about the MCAT. In that case congrats on being responsible, but please enjoy your life before this consumes it. Anyway, there are a couple things that I think would be helpful that nobody ever talks about. First and foremost, being able to read quickly is a huge blessing. I have always been a nerd and used to get in trouble for reading during class, so I am lucky in that this wasn’t a huge issue for me. The MCAT is timed and presents a lot of information to process, and if you can read fast that means you can get through the material much quicker, allowing you more time to check on questions that you have flagged. Since you will be making hella flashcards (read below), it will be really helpful if you can type fast. I type all my notes for school so I am fairly proficient (lucky for y’all or there would be no way in hell I would type this novel), however if you are not the best then there are several online typing websites you can use to improve your speed. Since the MCAT is all multiple choice there will be no things that you need to type, but it will save you a tone of time during your review. Finally, this makes sense but try to do your best in your undergrad classes and learn to retain information, not just get the day. If you barely passed orgo the first time you took it then it will take even longer to relearn it for the MCAT. Likewise, even though I got a 4.0 in biochem I didn’t memorize all the pathways, and it was annoying to have to relearn it. If you are in the position, keep these tips in mind and it will save you some time.
How I studied (chronologically in general):
Tbh I kinda bullshitted my way into MCAT studying for a while, as I didn’t really know anyone else who was studying at the same time. This is one of the things I highly regret, as I feel like I wasted too much time by not having a solid plan. There are services online that will build you a study plan for like $150. I never used them because I can usually self motivate, but if you are one of those people that cannot focus then you might wanna look into it. The first couple months I spent doing content review, which basically means I went through every page of the Kaplan books and took detailed notes. In the end, this was a COLOSSAL waste of time and I highly regret it. Hundreds of hours were put into making notes that I never used again, and those hours would be much better spent doing practice questions or something else. I would still recommend looking over the books because they provide a good basis. However, if I could go back I would probably just skim through them and maybe take light notes. Another thing I will discuss more - you need to be studying using active recall, which for most people means doing practice questions or flashcards. Don’t fall into the trap of reading over notes, thinking “that makes sense,” and then moving on with your life. Studies have shown repeatedly that is simply not the move, it does not work, and it is fake news. No, you’re not better than everyone else and learn better from reading your notes. If you still wanna disagree on this, just delete the email right now and continue to delude yourself.
After I did a content review, I couldn’t really tell you what I got done. I have about a 2 to 3 month gap in my memory on how I studied, which is why I suggest using a schedule. I assume I spent most of this time doing practice questions, and I also know that I got through all of UEarth Right around this time is when COVID hit, which really threw a wrench in my plans. I was originally supposed to test on 4/25, but miss rona pushed my test back 2 months to 6/27. I knew that I needed to really get my ass in gear in the last 2 months to get up to my goal (at that time my goal was a 520), so this is when I really started to put the work in.
Since my semester had ended, I basically studied everyday, full time. I struggle with waking up in the morning, and although on average I wanted to wake up at 7 everyday I usually got up at 9. I would workout (except when I got lazy which was more often than I’d like to admit), and then make a smoothie and study. My routine usually consisted of doing my Anki review cards in the morning, doing some practice questions, then doing new Anki cards in the afternoon. Something that I struggled with was working at home, and honestly if at all possible do not study in your own house if you can avoid it. I would usually go to the student union or find a nice spot outside, and I was lucky because my roommate moved out and I was able to use his room as an office with my phone in a different room. I would usually try to do a practice test every Wednesday and Sunday, spend the following Thursday and Monday reviewing it, and then spend the other days doing any practice I had left. As I got closer and closer to the test date I was eventually running out of practice questions and had more and more Anki cards, so I would end up just doing hella Anki cards a day.
Per Section Tips
First off for every section I was kinda surprised with how well I did, a whole lotta luck and everyone’s prayers went into it so excuseeee me if I can’t back up my score.
Chemistry/Physics (C/P): This section was a pain in my ass. I had done well in chemistry and physics in class, but at least at MSU you get a cheat sheet for PHY 231/2. The MCAT has no such luxuries, and you will be forced to memorize everything. Everyone stresses on orgo, but if you look at the content breakdown orgo is only 5% of the total content, and if you didn’t feel the need to do that good you could ignore orgo and probably do fine. I noticed that after doing a lot of practices, a lot of the stuff is very repetitive and testing the same things. You need to know your distillations and kinematic equations and how to find the resistance in parallel vs series, but honestly the stuff the section covers isn’t as hard as it seems once you get used to it
Critical Analysis of Bullshit aka Reading aka CARS: If C/P is a pain in the ass CARS has been the bane of my existence. “But Paul, how hard can reading be you illiterate fuck? The answer is just there you gotta read it!” Alas, this is not the case. I’ve read all my life, I got perfect scores in ACT and SAT reading, but CARS doesn’t really test your reading ability, it just tests if you can figure out the AAMC’s bullshit logic they use when writing questions. I ended up doing well in this section on the real thing, but honestly it has been one of the hardest things to improve and I can’t really give any huge game changers I used to boost my score. One thing that did help was after each paragraph, I would take a couple seconds to mentally summarize what I just read. Some of the material is insanely boring, and unless you stay engaged it will be hard to retain it and then answer the questions. In addition, you can’t spend time trying to find every answer in the text, as sometimes it will be vaguely implied and you have to ~feel~ it. The official AAMC section banks (discussed below) offer some good practice for this, and I would also recommend signing up for Jack Westin reading passages and doing those. I honestly think CARS is just something you have to practice over time and cross your fingers, do a rain dance, and pray that it will come to you. There is no quick fix and it’s impossible to cram for, so try to just start ASAP
Biology/Biochem (B/B): So tbh I have been an intro biology TA for 4 semesters now, meaning I have technically taken the class 5 times and a lot of the basic material is child's play (why you gotta fight with me at cheesecake). First off for the love of god memorize all the amino acids, glycolysis, and the Krebs cycle. You can’t get around it, they will ask questions about it, and it is easy points. Something else that’s important (really applies for the whole exam but) is that learning how everything is interconnected and applying concepts. You can’t really use sheer memorization for this, and a lot of questions I would get right because I was like oh shit this is just like a different concept I learned that I can apply to this. There are many many topics covered in this, so like everything else I would suggest just trying to absorb as much material as you can.
Psych/Soc (P/S): Honestly it is a beauty that this section is last because it is the “easiest.” I think that if you are struggling to get your score up, this is probably the easiest section to do it in because it is just memorizing a bunch of terms. Sure you need to rote memorize a lot of stuff, but many questions are just definitions and don’t really test your problem solving that much. I also found that I always finished psych with ample time left, so it gave me time to check on your answers. One thing I’ll warn you about is on the actual test, psych was hard as hell and I felt like it was my worst section by far, while it ended up being my best one. Keep in mind that even though this section is more straightforward than other ones, there will still be some curveballs. Also, process of elimination is essential in this section, as you will often get questions that require you to know 4 different theories - even if one is something you have no clue about, you may be able to eliminate the other options.
Actual Test Day and Trusting the Process:
Alright first when you take the test (applies to full lengths and every test in general) there are a couple strategies I used that I think helped get my score. First off, when actually taking the test I would usually try to make a quick first pass on it. The MCAT setup lets you flag questions, and if there was a question I had no clue on or one that I guessed on and went back, I would flag it by clicking the flag in the upper right hand corner. This not only allowed me to get through the whole test, but meant that I wouldn’t waste time on hard questions when there were easy questions further in the test. After making my first pass I would then review all the incomplete questions and flagged ones, and if I still had time I would go through the whole test again. More than once I caught a question I hadn’t flagged that I got wrong, so this was helpful.
Something else that was helpful was meditating. I don’t think I ever truly meditated, but between sections I would close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing. I know it sounds like some hippie bullshit but it actually works, I think it kinda helps calm you down and stay focused. It is easy to feel like you bombed one section and then let it affect your other sections, but I would try to push this out of my head and think along the lines of “okay even if chemistry sucked you can still do perfect on every other section and kill it.”
Something else I wanna discuss is scoring and low yield vs high yield concepts. Low yield and high yield is something that you will hear a lot, and basically refers to content that should be expected to be seen a lot (high yield) and content you may not ever see (low yield). An example of something high yield would be the structure of amnio acids, while something low yield is something like Kuber-Ross end of life stages. Some people only focus on the high yield stuff and ignore the low yield stuff, but personally I think that is a mistake. My philosophy is that you should go into the MCAT feeling like you know everything and are prepared for anything they might throw at you. Obviously you won’t and you will still be confused on some topics, but at least you are more likely to do better. Now if you have limited time that is a different story, but if you are able I would suggest treating everything as high yield.
In regards to scoring, something to keep in mind is that it is much much easier to improve at a lower level than at a higher one. The difference between the 515 I scored in March and the 525 I got in June was only a difference of ~15 questions right, and represented hundreds of hours of studying. Tbh, I theoretically could’ve gotten a 528 if I had gotten only 3 more questions right. For that reason (at least in my opinion), it is kind of hard to study for a score past 525, and that entire range (98-100th percentile) is based on your content knowledge and luck. If you are already scoring high you will probably notice the lack of advice and guides online to scoring in that range, as most things are focused on getting you to a 515 (generally most people’s target). Similarly, if you start out at a 490 it is going to be much easier to get to a 500 then from a 500->510, and a 510->520. Just something to keep in mind as you format your plan of attack.
As you approach your test day, most advice says to just relax and not do any material, but since I’m the kid that will still be looking at his notes while the test is being passed out in the front of class, I found this hard to do. At the end of the day however, the studying you do the last day and honestly in the last week won’t make that much of a difference. If you have been scoring in the 510 range on all your official FL’s, do not expect that you will suddenly get a 520 on test day. When you take the test, you will go to the Pearson Vue testing center (leave your phone in the car), sign in, get your palm scanned and photo taken, and then be led to the testing room. You will be asked to flip out your pockets, and the proctor (in my case a student) will lead you to the room. Keep in mind that if you want, you can ask the proctor for some disposable earplugs, in addition to the over the ear headphones that are next to your computer. Miraculously, I found that my room was actually pretty quiet, and I had no trouble concentrating. I took the test in the middle of COVID, which means they shortened the test to allow for 3 tests a day in order to fit everybody in. Because of this, the test was a little under 6 hours long instead of the 7+ hours it normally is. I had a smoothie for breakfast and went to the bathroom before, and I chose not to take any of the breaks. If you feel like you need a drink of water or to take a piss, keep in mind that it takes some time to get checked in and out, so really your 10 min break turns into 5. Now after you took the test, do your best not to freak out. Personally I got jimmy johns, then sat in my car and called my dad. I felt confident on FL4 but felt like I bombed the actual test, and all I could focus on were the questions I had likely gotten wrong. This is normal, everyone feels that way, and odds are you didn’t fail. I then spent the next 2 weeks tweaking and reading horror stories of people who did good in practice and then bombed their actual test - for the love of god don’t do this, try not to do something school related, and just relax. It is out of your hands and there is nothing you can do, so don’t worry about it because I bet you did great.
How to take a full length (FL):
If you do any research online, you will likely see people refer to something called FL’s. These stand for full length tests, and they are released by AMCAS, the company that makes the MCAT. These tests are the best gauge of how well you will do on the MCAT, as I’m pretty sure they are just old MCATS. You should pretend that each FL is the real thing - that means taking it in a quiet environment, no notes, phone away, etc. There are currently 4 AAMC FL’s, which means 4 practice test (representing more than 1000 practice questions)
Now, here’s where I go against the thread. The conventional wisdom is to take your full lengths within a month of your actual test, and your test will be ±2 points of the average of your FL’s. However, I was originally supposed to test April 25th, and when it got pushed back to June 27th I had already taken FL1-3. This means I couldn’t take the average, since there were 300+ hours of studying done between FL3 and FL4. Personally, I find I learn a lot from reviewing practice questions, and as such it’s going to be natural to improve on subsequent ones. A lot of people only focus on actually taking the test, but actually reviewing the test is essential, and probably one of the most important things to do when studying for the MCAT. Every question is multiple choice, and therefore has 1 right answer and 3 wrong answers (except the questions like I, I & II, II & III but fuck those questions). This means that when doing any sort of practice, you should not only know why the right answer is right but why the other 3 are wrong. If you can do this for every question, you know your stuff. To test if you’re doing it right, if you were to look through old practices you should be getting almost every question right. If not, you probably need to focus on how you review information. My scores on the full lengths were 514, 515, 513 (rip CARS) and 524.
A note on third party practice tests - do NOT trust scores from third party tests, at least not at face value. First of all, the companies have a financial incentive to make them harder. You might notice that companies like Kaplan have a money back guarantee if you don’t do better on the actual test than their practices. To make sure you never claim it, they make their tests way harder than the real thing. For reference, I got 510 on a Kaplan FL and scored 524 on FL4 the next week. Furthermore, the AAMC has a very specific format that you need to get used to, a format not used by other test making companies. This holds especially true in CARS - basically disregard any 3rd party cars test, as it is fake news.
I was going to throw this in the section below but I realized that Anki was so instrumental in my success it deserves it’s own separate header. Anki is basically a flashcard app, but it has some features that make it amazing. When you use online flashcards like quizlet, it will basically have your cards in a pile and there is no way of ranking them. With Anki, whenever you look at a card you can rank it by difficulty, and then cards that are easy will go to the back of your pile while difficult ones will stay at the top. That way you can maximize your time. What you should be doing is basically making an Anki card on anything and everything. This includes right and wrong questions, things that you kinda know but not quite, things you see online that you aren’t 100% confident of. If there is a topic that you don’t know well enough to teach to another person, you should make a card for it.
This is mentioned below, but in addition to making your own cards I would use a master deck. That is basically a compendium of all the knowledge that will be on the test. They are usually not super in depth, but offer a great way to get a general understanding of stuff.
The important thing after making the cards is actually using them, and this is where I dropped the ball. I didn’t really start going through my Anki decks until a little over a month before the MCAT, and since I had accumulated over 6000 cards including the master deck it meant I was doing more than a thousand reviews a day. Anki is made for long term learning not cramming, and I would recommend working on cards simultaneously as you make them.
I am not an expert on Anki, but there are a lot of YouTube videos and resources out there that can explain it better than I. I would also recommend downloading the Heatmap add-on to track your progress and to motivate you to keep up with it, as well as the image resizer add on to make it easier to add screenshots.
Also something that made studying easier for me was that I would often do my Anki cards while hammocking. Obviously it would be difficult depending on your location/the season, but I love outdoors and it was much better for me to work on a deck outside rather than cramped inside an office.
Some of you have requested I send my Anki decks, which I did because once again, we are all in this together. However, I would generally warn against using other peoples flashcards or Anki decks. If we both took the same test there would be questions I thought were easy that you thought were hard, and vice versa. It is gonna be a waste of time, since your study plan should be custom to
YOU, nobody else.
Seriously though, download Anki and use it. Without Anki I would not have done well. Plz.
Other Resources I Used:
AAMC Official Material - This includes the full lengths I previously discussed, as well as other section banks with official practice questions. These are very helpful, as they are written by AMCAS and the MCAT is written in a specific way. You will notice as you study more that while questions test certain knowledge, but official questions are written differently than 3rd party ones. Among the AAMC resources are something called Section Banks. These are basically the hardest questions that are likely to show up on the test. Don’t fret when you get half of them wrong, because they’re designed to be hella hard. They are another great resource to study from, because if you can nail the hardest content then everything else will seem easy.
UEarth - UEarth can straight up have my children, it is probably one of if not the best resource you can use. Basically UEarth is a paid service that has 1900 practice questions, styled exactly like the MCAT. Questions are broken up by sections (Chem, Physics, Bio, Biochem, Psych, Soc, Reading), and furthermore by subsections (for example Chem could have circuits, magnets, thermo, mirrors, etc). UEarth allows you to make custom practice tests, and you can choose the type of questions you want. The real beauty of UEarth is that they give detailed explanations for every question, including why the wrong answer is wrong. This allows you to figure out why you chose the wrong answer (which as mentioned, is important). I went through UEarth on my first pass over spring break (and made Anki cards for them), and then went back over a month or so later and redid all of the questions I had gotten wrong previously. This was important, because if I still got them wrong it meant that I didn’t learn the subject.
Kaplan - Most people purchase a set of books, and the 2 most common are the Princeton Review and Kaplan. They’re basically the same, so flip a coin or whatever. One thing that is nice with Kaplan is you have access to their online services. At the end of each chapter in the book there is a 15 question quiz, and they have all these online when you make an account. They also provide you with 3 free practice tests, which are nice.
NextStep Full Lengths - As I’ve mentioned, I learn best when doing practice questions. NextStep is a third party company that sells practice tests and section banks. Even though they are very deflated, they still are great for testing your content knowledge. I got the bundle of 6 tests, and was able to do so when they had a sale. Depending on how long you are studying for, I would definitely use NS tests if you can.
JackWestin CARS practice - JackWestin is apparently just a dude that is good at reading. CARS is one of the hardest sections on the MCAT, and he has a free email service where you sign up and they send you one passage a day. I would recommend doing that literally after you’re done reading the novel I’m writing right now, and then actually do it. I had like a 3 month period where I would just delete the emails every day, and that is stupid. If you do one passage a day you’ll spend only ~10 minutes, but you’ll be doing the equivalent of an entire CARS practice every week.
MileDown Anki Deck - Legend has it that Mr. Miledown was an extremely gracious person sho spent his gap year making a comprehensive review of all the MCAT material. The Miledown deck is an Anki deck of a few thousand flashcards that encompass all of the knowledge that should be on the MCAT. Theoretically, if you go through the entire deck and learn everything then you will know everything that will be on the MCAT. It can be downloaded from reddit if you google it. There are several other master decks (the other one I know of is Jack Sparrow), I only used the MileDown one and I was fine but do some digging.
Reddit - this was also instrumental for my MCAT success. I was never big into reddit, but I made an account specifically when preparing. There is an MCAT subreddit with an absolute wealth of knowledge. If you have a question, I can almost guarantee that someone has asked it before. There are tons of people that are apparently altruistic af, and will take time out of their day to give detailed answers. Reddit is also huge when reviewing your FL’s. If you have a tricky question google “reddit MCAT FL# C/P #” and there will probably be multiple threads with different explanations. Reddit also has some funny memes and people will post very helpful tips or study sheets. There’s also lots of posts like what I’m writing now, where people will outline their study strategy and give tips. I think one of the reasons people do so bad on the MCAT (after all 50% of people score below a 500) is simply because they are not aware of what is out there.
Stuff attached to this email - I attached some of my favorite resources that I used when preparing. Highlights include the Khan Academy document and The Miledown Overall Review pdf. Some of the website links are to very specific topics, but ones that I struggled with and found helpful. It’s helpful, and ctrl f is your friend. I also attached my Anki decks.
What I Wish I Did Differently:
I obviously got a great score, however there were several things that I would have changed. As mentioned, I wasted a lot of time on my content review. Unless you are actively recalling the content, there is very little you will learn from reading and taking notes. I could have easily shaved a couple hundred hours off my study time if I kept this in mind. If I had an actual schedule to follow, I would definitely have been more efficient - some people find that it helps to have a study buddy to keep each other accountable. In addition, I should have been more diligent at following a routine and waking up early. Especially in summer with my test 2 months away, it was really easy to sleep in until 10. I would try to remind myself that if I woke up 3 hours earlier, that means I can finish 3 hours earlier. In the same vein, it is important to set boundaries while you study and try to enjoy your life. I would often try to “study” until 10 at night, which usually consisted of me going on my phone while my laptop was open with flashcards. This is just stupid, either you are studying or not; you can’t halfass it.
You might have noticed that I didn’t do any sort of standardized program. It may work for some, but personally I find that when you’re being taught with everyone else, it is very easy to either get ahead and be wasting your time or fall behind and struggle. I am also poor. Many people like private tutoring, however that is also extremely expensive and many times it is easier to find the answer yourself.
In a similar thread, you need to keep in mind that MCAT companies are for profit companies. This is where my cynicism will show through - the primary goal of these companies is to maximize profit, not get you the best score. Of course they want you to do well so they will look good, and I’m sure individual teachers do care, however as a whole they are trying to sell you something. As part of my Kaplan book set I was able to have a 30min call to help plan for studying. When I asked her about other resources like UEarth and Nextstep, it was evident that she was basically told by her boss not to endorse anyone but Kaplan, so she steered me back towards their own products. They are not praying on your downfall, but just keep that in mind when you get advice from someone.
Also if you can’t tell already, the MCAT is hella expensive. Including the fee for taking the test, I spent around $1100 throughout the whole process. I was lucky to be in a position where I was able to work over the semester to save up, but it is something to think about.
Something that also really helped me was an app called Forest. It is an app that will grow mini virtual trees when you don’t use your phone for a given amount of time. Growing trees gets you coins, which you can use to unlock more trees and even use to get the company to plant real trees. It sounds cheesy, but it was really helpful for me and helped me stay off my phone.
A note on mental health:
The MCAT is a real bitch, and I knew of lots of people that I either knew personally or saw online that had their mental health really affected. I am lucky enough to not suffer from high anxiety or other disorders, but given how stressful it was for me I can’t imagine dealing with it on top of other shit. At the end of the day, the MCAT is just another standardized test and the score doesn’t define who you are. At worst you would have to retake it, and even if you have to take a gap year it is not the end of the world. Ik you might think it is easy for me to say since I got a good score, but even after I got the score in the back of my mind I was like hmm well if I had gotten XYZ right maybe I would’ve done even better. Unless you’re a genius you probably won’t get a 528, and that is okay. Do the best you can, remind yourself that med school admissions are holistic, and at the end of the day remember to take time for self care.
Alright folks that’s a wrap. I think I included most of my thoughts, but I’m sure I forgot a few things. Let me know if you have any other questions, you can reply to this email or just text me. Feel free to send this to your friends, I really don’t care and I want everyone to do as best they can on the MCAT. We are all smart and capable and we will all get into medical school and be doctors someday. I believe in you.
Everything you need to know in science:
Electrostatic Equations:
Understanding linear to chair conformations of sugars:
Converting 3rd party FL scores to actual ones:
Memorizing Erikson stages:
Link to MileDown MCAT Overall Review (too large to attach):
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Will the Arizona Cardinals win OVER/UNDER 7 games? 2020 season predictions by University Stats Prof!

1. Introduction

From 2013 to 2015, the Cardinals won at least 10 games in each of those seasons. They followed up with a couple of years where they finished close to a .500 record. Things got even worse in the past two seasons, during which the franchise compiled an 8-23-1 record.
Now in year #2 of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray, it’s time for Arizona to make a leap forward.

2. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Arizona Cardinals are expected to win 7 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
Here are the results (excluding simulated seasons where they won exactly 7 games, in which case the bet ties):

Estimated prob. Sportsbook Odds ROI
OVER 7 wins 53.1% 10Bet -110 +1.4%
UNDER 7 wins 46.9% William Hill +110 -1.5%

Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

3. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

Kyler Murray had a very successful rookie campaign as Arizona’s new franchise quarterback.
Despite a suspect surrounding cast, he posted very respectable numbers with 3,722 passing yards, 20 TDs and 12 interceptions. He was also dangerous as a runner, as shown by his 544 rushing yards.
Murray was the victim of 48 sacks, but he was hard to catch. Indeed, he finished in 2nd place in terms of average time from snap-to-sack among all QBs in the NFL.
Now with one full year of experience under his belt, you can expect Murray to take a nice leap and improve his game even more in 2020.
Brett Hundley will once again back up Murray this season. The Cards must hope they won’t need him because he has never shown he could lead a team to success. The former Packer is clearly no more than a #2 QB in this league.

3.2 Running Backs (RBs)

The Cards got a nice bargain last year by trading a sixth-round pick in exchange for Kenyan Drake. He was nothing short of spectacular in his eight appearances in the desert by racking up 643 rushing yards over eight games. He also scored eight touchdowns during that short period.
During the offseason, the Cards re-signed him to a one-year, $8.5 million contract. The team also traded David Johnson to Houston, which clearly puts Drake as the starter.
Chase Edmonds will be the main backup runner. He showed some flashes with a nice 5.1 yards per rush average. The third-year pro is good insurance in case Drake gets hurt.

3.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

Kyler Murray probably popped a bottle of champagne when he heard about the acquisition of stud wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans.
Losing David Johnson in the trade isn’t that big of a deal for the Cards, who already had good depth at the running back position. However, acquiring a big-time WR like Hopkins is HUGE!
Hopkins has played either 15 or 16 games in each of his first seven years in the NFL. He has averaged 1,229 receiving yards and 7.7 TDs during that time span.
He consistently ranks among the top receivers year in and year out. In 2019, he finished with an 87.8 grade from PFF, which had him ranked as the 5th best WR.
Unbelievable: Larry Fitzgerald is coming back for a 17th season! He did better than expected last season by catching 75 passes and finishing 53rd out of 122 qualified wide receivers in the league based on PFF.
Fitzgerald claimed he loved the culture under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and he wants to help the team both as a player and as a mentor for the younger guys.
Christian Kirk, a former second-round pick in the 2018 draft, had an okay year. His 62.5 grade by PFF had him ranked as the #91 WR (out of 122). With Hopkins drawing a lot of attention from opposing defenses, Kirk must make a leap in 2020. It remains to be seen if he can do it or not.
Arizona lost some depth at the position after seeing Damiere Byrd leave for New England, while Pharoh Cooper signed with Carolina. It’s not a huge blow to the team, but worth mentioning.

3.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

A young QB like Kyler Murray would certainly welcome some help at the tight end position, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
The top target last year was Charles Clay. He only caught 18 passes and is now a free agent.
All signs point toward Maxx Williams assuming the number one role. You’ll be surprised to hear he ranked as the 7th best tight end in the league according to PFF. His nice 79.1 grade was obtained via outstanding run and pass blocking.
In summary, the team is pretty thin at this position.

3.5 Offensive Line (OL)

One of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2019 was certainly its offensive line. They allowed the 5th highest number of sacks a year ago, despite Murray being a mobile quarterback.
The only guy who finished above average based on PFF rankings was Justin Pugh (22nd out of 81 among guards). The other four starters were either average or quite bad.
The bad news? The team has not addressed the position in free agency. They did select Josh Jones in the third round of this year’s draft, though. He has a high chance of becoming the team’s starting right guard right away, despite many experts calling him a developmental project who needs work.
I can’t believe D.J. Humphries is going to be the third-highest paid left tackle in the league after signing a hefty contract this offseason. His paycheck is clearly not in line with his production on the field. In five years, he has played 43 games and missed 37 due to numerous injuries. He finally played through a full 16-game season last year, but he PFF gave him the 47th-best grade out of 81 tackles.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

Overall, I expect a nice progression from this unit. Kyler Murray is clearly more likely to improve than to regress based on his young age. The running back position is set. The receiving corps got a gigantic boost with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins.
The tight end and offensive line positions remain problematic. However, if you compare with last year, it can’t get much worse. Building the line should be one of the top priorities for Arizona in the upcoming years.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

4. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

4.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

This was not a position of strength for Arizona last year. Out of 114 DLs, here’s the final PFF ranking of the four guys who got the most playing time: Corey Peters 65th, Rodney Gunter 61st, Zach Kerr 42nd and Jonathan Bullard 94th. Ouch.
Now, Gunter and Kerr are both gone. Meanwhile, the team acquired Jordan Phillips from the Bills. He probably won’t be a savior as he finished in 104th place.

4.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

Chandler Jones had an exceptional years with 19 sacks! Only Shaquil Barrett from the Bucs recorded more sacks.
Outside of Jones, Terrell Suggs played 13 games before being released by the Cards. He still managed to record 5.5 sacks.
Cassius Marsh played 38% of the defensive snaps and finished 70th out of 107 edge defenders. He signed with the Jaguars during the offseason.
In order to compensate for those losses, Arizona signed Devon Kennard, formerly of the Detroit Lions. He played 82% of the snaps in Detroit and finished 44th (out of 107) at the position. He obtained 7 sacks last year (7 more the year before).

4.3 Linebackers (LBs)

Jordan Hicks was a tackling machine with 150; only Bobby Wagner (Seattle) and Blake Martinez (Green Bay) had more in 2019.
However, Hicks didn’t grade particularly well. He finished 43rd out of 89 linebackers.
Haason Reddick and Joe Walker both finished in the bottom: 86th and 79th. Walker left for San Francisco, which is not a big loss.
Arizona signed De’Vondre Campbell who played 89% of the snaps with the Falcons. Can he improve the linebacker play in 2020? I doubt it. His poor 50.1 grade gave him the 70th rank. Here are his grades the previous three seasons: 57.4, 69.1 and 55.7. He is a durable guy, but far from a great player.
DC Vance Joseph declared #8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons would primarily play at linebacker. Simmons was super versatile in college, playing many positions. He will provide good coverage against TEs and pass-catching RBs, while also defending the run efficiently. He clearly has Pro Bowl talent.

4.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Patrick Peterson is clearly the leader of this group. He was having a decent season, and was brilliant in the final few games. He finished as the number 39 cornerback out of 112 guys. He missed the first six games of the season because of a suspension.
There is not much depth behind Peterson, though. Byron Murphy played 98% of the snaps, but finished with an awful 48.8 grade. The 2019 second-round pick will need to elevate his game A LOT this season.

4.5 Safeties (S)

Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson provide an adequate duo of safeties. These two guys are still young and we can expect some improvement in 2020. They finished last year as #28 and #57 out of 87 qualified safeties. Baker accumulated 147 tackles, 4th in the NFL.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

No major changes for this unit. Given they’ve allowed the 5th highest number of points last year, that’s not good news.
The lone position where the Cards have improved this offseason is linebacker because of the acquisition of Isaiah Simmons via the draft and De’Vondre Campbell as a free agent from Atlanta.
Or perhaps the couple of young safeties can take a leap? Maybe, maybe not. It may be wishful thinking.
To summarize, the team added Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, Isaiah Simmons and De’Vondre Campbell. They lost Rodney Gunter, Zach Kerr, Terrell Suggs, Cassius Marsh and Joe Walker. To me, those changes offset. Perhaps it will turn out to be a small upgrade.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
Thanks for reading!
Professor MJ
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Will the Tennessee Titans win OVER/UNDER 8.5 games? By University Stats Prof!

1. Introduction

Tennessee’s season completely turned around once they benched quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill.

After a 2-4 start, the Titans won seven of their final 10 games to sneak into the playoffs as the 6th seed in the AFC. Fun fact: it was the fourth straight season that the Titans finished with a 9-7 record!

In the playoffs, they knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions New England Patriots, as well as the top seed in the conference, the Baltimore Ravens. Derrick Henry ran like a mad man in those games, becoming the first player in NFL history to rack up at least 175 rushing yards in two games in the same postseason.

In the AFC Conference Championship Game, Tennessee grabbed a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, but couldn’t hold off the Chiefs any longer in a 35-to-24 defeat.

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

Ryan Tannehill was clearly one of the best Cinderella stories in 2019. After taking over as the starting QB over Marcus Mariota, he led the league in QB rating.

He crushed his previous career-high in completion percentage with as astounding 70.3%; his personal best was 66.4% in 2014.

During his first six years in Miami, he posted a 123:75 TD:INT mark. That equates to a 1.64 ratio. In 2019, he threw 22 TD passes versus 6 interceptions, which amounts to a 3.7 ratio. As you can see, once again he obliterated his past numbers.

The team thinks he can keep playing at that level after handing him a hefty contract. I do believe he’ll do a good job in 2020, but not at the 2019 levels, obviously.

As of now, the backup QB is Logan Woodside since Mariota signed with the Raiders. Woodside was drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 draft out of Toledo. During preseason games, he completed 46-of-76 passes (a 60.5% completion rate) for 539 yards with 4 TDs and no interception. It’s hard to tell what he can bring to the table.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

Derrick Henry was a true beast last year. He won the rushing title with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 TDs on the ground (he added two more as a receiver). His 5.1 yards-per-carry average is mind-boggling considering the high volume.

He didn’t slow down in the playoffs. After rushing for 182 yards in New England, he single-handedly destroyed the Ravens with 195 rushing yards. He was quieter in K.C. by accumulating 69 yards on the ground.

Few people remember how he finished the previous year on a high note as well. In the final four meetings of the 2018 season, he averaged 146 rushing yards and 1.75 rushing TDs per contest. Obviously, he followed up with a season to remember.

Henry’s numbers have steadily increased every single year since he joined the league in 2016. Now 26 years old, defensive coordinators must be getting up at night to game plan against him.

Dion Lewis was a nice change-of-pace back, even though he didn’t have a great year. At least he had NFL experience, which is not the case of the remaining potential backup backs. Both Dalyn Dawkins and David Fluellen are undrafted guys who have combined for 19 rushing attempts in the league.

Tennessee filled a need by drafting Darrynton Evans in last April’s draft. The third-rounder complements Henry’s skillset well, as Evans can spell him on passing third-down situations (a role that used to be played by Dion Lewis). Also, he isn’t great running inside the tackles due to his small size, but he is more of a change-of-pace runner who has home-run hitting capacities.

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

Rookie A.J. Brown was hyped as a big-play guy, and he did not disappoint. He didn’t catch that many balls, but when he did he made the most of it.

The Mississippi product led all receivers that caught at least 50 passes with a jaw-dropping 20.2 yards-per-catch average. He scored 8 TDs, while also topping the 1,000 receiving-yard mark (he had 1,051).

Will former #5 overall pick Corey Davis live up to his draft status? It seems unlikely after watching his first three years as a pro. He raised hopes by posting a 65-891-4 receiving line in 2018, but he regressed to 43-601-2 last year. Talent and youth play on his side, though. He may not be a true No. 1 wideout, but he can clearly do the job as a number two or three receiver.

Adam Humphries is an efficient, yet not explosive player. He is good to pick up key first downs. He caught more than 70% of his targets in his final two years in Tampa, and he reached that goal once again in his first season in Tennessee.

Was he worth a four-year deal worth $36 million? Probably not, but having him as your slot receiver is a bonus. His numbers were down last year, but he will be a useful tool as a 27-year old this year.

Tajae Sharpe also made a nice contribution last year with 25 receptions, 329 yards and 4 TDs. He was a nice luxury to have on your roster, but he signed with the Vikings during the offseason.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

Jonnu Smith and Delanie Walker received the most playing time at tight end.

Walker did a decent job, but father time seems to have caught up to him. After being very durable for 11 years, he stayed healthy for just one game in 2018 and seven games last year. Accordingly, the team cut ties with him as he was going to enter his age-36 campaign.

Walker’s absence gave more room for Jonnu Smith to shine. The 2017 third-rounder has seen his numbers increase every year. His 35-439-3 receiving line is nothing to write home about. He could make a jump in 2020, but don’t expect huge steps.

Anthony Firkser will be back with the squad. He doesn’t have the size and speed to become a great TE, but he does a fine job for a guy that was never drafted.

MyCole Pruitt will be the #3 TE. He has never caught more than 10 passes in any of his five years in the NFL. Enough said.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

Ben Jones has done a great job at the pivot throughout his entire eight-year career. He raised his game to a higher level last year by finishing at the second-best center in the NFL according to PFF grades. He’s been an awesome pickup when acquired from the Texas a few years ago.

Right tackle Jack Conklin broke the bank in Cleveland, which left a glaring hole in Tennessee. He was a very solid player, and Dennis Kelly or Isaiah Wilson will try to fill his shoes.

Kelly has received his two best PFF grades of his seven-year career in 2018 and 2019, which is a good sign. However, he doesn’t play at the same level as Conklin.

The organization figures to have a better chance at replacing Conklin adequately with Isaiah Wilson, who was taken late in the first round of this year’s draft. This guy weighted close to 400 pounds coming out of high school! He is a mauler.

The rookie needs work for both his footwork and technique, which led to uneven play in college. He has exceptional physical traits and high potential, but may not be great right from the start.

At left tackle, Taylor Lewan is a cornerstone of this offensive line. He’s been good his whole career, never receiving a PFF mark below 76.4, which is remarkable!

Rodger Saffold is the starting left guard for the Titans. He ranked as the sixth-best guard in the NFL last year; needless to say he’s been a valuable piece of the puzzle for this franchise.

The weakest link is Nate Davis at right guard. The third-round rookie struggled big-time last year.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

The Titans did not make a single free agent acquisition on offense.

They lost some depth with the departures of RB Dion Lewis and WR Tajae Sharpe. The team hopes 3rd round pick Darrynton Evans can spell Henry appropriately.

The backup QB will also be weaker due to Mariota leaving for Vegas. And despite his advanced age, Delanie Walker was a decent TE, although he only appeared in seven games last year.

The biggest loss occurred on the offensive line. Seeing Jack Conklin go to the Jets hurts the team. Rookie Isaiah Wilson will do his best to hold the fort, but he is unlikely to play at the same level as Conklin in his first year as a pro.

Finally, how could we expect better production out of Ryan Tannehill in 2020 as opposed to his 2019 heroics?

In conclusion, I am tagging the Titans offense with a moderate downgrade in comparison to 2019.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

Jurrell Casey is a strong run stuffer, while also averaging 5.7 sacks per year over a nine-year period. He was traded to Denver for cap reasons, which will hurt Tennessee’s interior of the line a lot.

With Casey gone, the team will hand a much heavier workload to Jeffery Simmons. After missing the first seven games due to a knee injury, he showed fairly good promise as a #19 overall pick from the 2019 draft. His sophomore year will be critical.

The team will also rely on DaQuan Jones to step up his game. He is an above-average DL, whose main strength is defending the run. He only has seven sacks in six years.

The Titans lost some depth as Austin Johnson went to the Giants.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

Harold Landry played twice as many snaps in his sophomore year as his rookie season, and he doubled his sack total (going from 4.5 to 9 to lead the team in that category). He graded as the 62nd-best edge defender in the league out of 107 players. He has the potential to take a leap.

The team hopes to improve its pass rush by adding Vic Beasley, formerly of the Falcons. His numbers are a bit puzzling. He led the league with 15.5 sacks in his second season back in 2016. Since then, he has posted 5, 5 and 8 sacks.

Those are not bad numbers, but they are clearly below expectations coming from a fellow that was the 8th overall selection in the 2015 draft. Also, he is a liability in run defense. In other words, he’s been more name than game recently.

Kamalei Correa racked up five sacks despite playing 39% of the snaps. He had just 3.5 sacks over his first three years as a pro. He’s not a game breaker.

Reggie Gilbert is a role player. The undrafted guy has 4.5 sacks in three years is no more than depth.

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans are the leaders of this group. Based on draft status, Evans is supposed to be the superior player, but that wasn’t the case at all last year.

Evans received poor marks from PFF with a 47.6 grade; he obtained spot #74 out of 89 LBs. He struggled a lot in coverage and wasn’t that great rushing the passer. He does a fine job defending the run though.

As for Brown, his 68.8 PFF grade allowed him to finish as the 20th-best linebacker in the league. His sack total went from 6 in 2018 down to just one a year ago. The former fifth-rounder will try to bring that number back up this season.

Wesley Woodyard’s career is clearly on the decline. He lost his starting job, his PFF grades are falling, he’s 34 years old and he is now a free agent after the Titans failed to re-sign him.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Adoree’ Jackson is the team’s number 1 CB. He was the 18th overall pick from the 2017 draft. Even though he has only two career interceptions, he is still a fairly solid coverage guy. He constantly ranks among the upper tier.

Logan Ryan played almost all defensive snaps last year and he filled the scoresheet more than ever in his seven-year career. He had career-highs in tackles (113), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (4). He also picked off four passes, his second-best performance.

Yet, he graded as an average corner by taking the 62nd rank out of 112 CBs because of ordinary run defense and coverage skills. The Titans couldn’t meet his salary demands, so he left via free agency.

Malcolm Butler finished once again in the middle of the pack among all NFL cornerbacks last year. The Super Bowl XLIX hero has seen his PFF grades decrease in each of the past three seasons, but he still manages to intercept 2-4 passes every year. He missed seven games last year with a broken wrist.

LeShaun Sims played 30% of the snaps, while producing poor play on the field. He’s never been a good corner, but he still found a new home in Cincinnati when the Bengals signed him in March.

The Titans took Kristian Fulton late in the 2nd round this year. Many reports suggest he’ll be an average NFL starter. He is best in man coverage due to his physicality. He lost the entire 2017 season when he was caught trying to tamper with a PED test sample, where he submitted a friend’s urine.

3.5 Safeties (S)

Kevin Byard is one of the league’s highest paid safety and he deserves it. He has 17 interceptions over the last three years. In those seasons, his PFF rankings were 4th, 3rd and 10th among close to 90 qualifiers.

Byard turned out to be a huge bargain as a former third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State. Now 27 years old, there is no reason to believe his play will deteriorate in 2020.

Kenny Vaccaro is well known among fans, even though his play is not great. He probably gets recognition due to his former first-round status, but his best PFF grade was 66.7 back in 2013. Just to give you an idea, such a mark would have yielded him the #48 spot out of 87 safeties last year. And that was his best season.

Amani Hooker played 30% of the snaps last year as a rookie. The Titans had actually traded up to secure his rights during the 2019 draft. He did a decent job, but the jury is still out about the fourth-rounder’s future.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

The Titans allowed the 12th-fewest points in the league last year. Should be expect better or worse play in 2020?

Jurrell Casey’s presence will be missed in a big way on the interior of the line. Also, not getting CB Logan Ryan back is hardly good news. Overall, he was an above-average corner who was constantly on the field and has been very durable in his career.

The only good addition is Vic Beasley. I feel like he’s overrated since his sack numbers are lower than what most people think and due to poor run defense, but he still has valuable pass rushing abilities.

Based on this information, I anticipate a small downgrade from this unit.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Titans are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

Here are the results:

Estimated Probability Sportsbook Odds ROI
OVER 8.5 WINS 50.9% FanDuel -110 -2.8%
UNDER 8.5 WINS 49.1% Pinnacle +129 +12.4%

Tip: Bet UNDER 8.5 wins
Return On Investment (ROI): +12.4%
Rank: 22nd-highest ROI out of 32 teams
Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): +104

Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Titans’ 16 regular season games:

Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

I hope you found this article informative, I've got every NFL team covered so check out my other posts! Have a nice day!

Professor MJ
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The truth behind Puskás Akadémia FC - How Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán stole a legend, built a stadium in his backyard and guided his team to Europe

The 2019/2020 season of the Hungary’s National Football League (NB1) – being one of the first leagues to restart play - came to an end on 27 June. If a casual observer (for whatever reason) decides to check out the final standings, he would be not surprised at the first two positions: record-champion Ferencváros defended their title, while regional powerhouse Fehérvár (Videoton) came in second. However, the third place team, Puskás Akadémia FC might seem unusual and one could think that there is a story behind that. Is there a team named after Ferenc Puskás? Did some academy youths make an incredible run for the Europa League qualification? Well, the observer is right, there is a story behind all this, but it’s absolutely not a fun story. It’s a story about how one powerful man’s obsession with football stole a legend, misused state funds and killed the spirit of Hungarian football. (Warning: this is a long story, feel free to scroll down for a tl;dr. Also, I strongly advise checking out the links, those images are worth seeing).
Naturally, political influence in football has been present ever since the dawn of the sport and we know of numerous state leaders who felt confident enough to use their influence to ensure the successful development of their favored clubs – Caucescu’s FC Olt Scornicesti and Erdogan’s Basaksehir are well-known examples of such attempts. However, I fear that very few of the readers are aware of the fact that Puskás Akadémia FC is nothing but Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s grandiose project for establishing his hometown’s club as one of the country’s top teams. Considering that Orbán managed to achieve this goal using state funds in an EU member democracy in the 2000s, one might even say that it might be one of the most impressive attempts of cheating your way through Football Manager in real life. Now that Puskás Akadémia FC escaped the desolate football scene of Hungary and is getting ready for the European takeover, I feel that it’s high time to tell its true story.

Part 1: Part time striker, part time PM

Our story begins in 1999 when the 36-year-old striker Viktor Orbán (recently elected as the country’s Prime Minister) was signed by the sixth-tier side of Felcsút FC residing in rural Fejér County. It might sound surprising that an active politician would consider such a side job, but given that Orbán has been playing competitive low-level football throughout his whole life and has always been known as a keen football enthusiast, people seemed to be okay with his choice for a hobby. Orbán spent most of his childhood in the village of Felcsút (population: 1,800), so it seemed only natural that he would join the team after one of his old-time acquaintances became team president there.
Orbán’s arrival to the club seemed to work like a charm as Felcsút FC immediately earned a promotion to the fifth league. The Prime Minister’s busy program did not allow him to attend every training session and game but Orbán did make an effort to contribute as much as possible on the field – there is a report of a government meeting being postponed as Orbán was unavailable due to attending Felcsút FC’s spring training camp. The 2001/2002 season brought another breakthrough for the side as Felcsút was promoted to the national level of the football pyramid after being crowned the champion of Fejér County. Sadly enough for Orbán, he suffered a defeat on another pitch – his party lost the 2002 election and Orbán was forced to move to an opposition role.
No matter what happened on the political playing field, Orbán would not abandon his club. Just before the 2002 elections, Felcsút was surprisingly appointed as one of the regional youth development centers by the Hungarian FA. Orbán continued contributing on the field as well (he had more spare time after all) but his off-the-field efforts provided much more value for the team as he used his political influence to convince right-wing businessmen that they should definitely get sponsorship deals done with the fourth-division village team.
Club management was able to transform the influx of funds into on-field success: Felcsút FC was promoted to the third division in 2004 and achieved promotion to the second division in 2005. Although these new horizons required a skill level that an aging ex-PM is not likely to possess, Orbán regularly played as a late game sub and even appeared in cup games against actual professional opponents. The now-42-year old Orbán did not want to face the challenge of the second division, so he retired in 2005 – but this did not stop him from temping as an assistant coach when the head coach was sacked in the middle of the 2005-2006 season.
Success on the playing field did not translate to political success: Orbán lost the elections once again in 2006. However, this was only a temporary loss: the ruling party committed blunder after blunder and by early 2007 it became absolutely obvious that Orbán would be able return to power in 2010. Now confident in his political future, Orbán opted for the acceleration of football development in Felcsút – by late 2007 he took over the presidency of the club to take matters in his own hands. Sponsors seeking to gain favor with the soon-to-be PM were swarming Felcsút FC, so the club was able to stand very strong in an era where financial stability was a very rare sight in the Hungarian football scene, accumulating three medals (but no promotion) between 2007 and 2009.
On the other hand, Orbán realized the value of youth development as well, and started a local foundation for this purpose back in 2004 that gathered funds for the establishment a boarding school-like football academy. The academy opened its doors in September 2006 (only the second of such institutions in the country) and Orbán immediately took upon the challenge of finding an appropriate name for the academy.
He went on to visit the now very sick Ferenc Puskás in the hospital to discuss using his name, but as Puskás’ medical situation was deteriorating rapidly, communication attempts were futile. Luckily enough Puskás’ wife (and soon to be widow) was able to act on his incapable husband’s behalf and approved the naming deal in a contract. According to the statement, naming rights were granted without compensation, as “Puskás would have certainly loved what’s happening down in Felcsút”. However, there was much more to the contract: Puskás’ trademark was handed to a sports journalist friend of Orbán (György Szöllősi, also acting communications director of the academy) who promised a hefty annual return for the family (and also a 45% share of the revenue for himself). Ferenc Puskás eventually died on 17 November 2006 and on 26 November 2006 the football academy was named after him: Puskás Academy was born.
Orbán shared his vision of the whole organization after the opening ceremony: “It’s unreasonable to think that Felcsút should have a team in the top division. We should not flatter ourselves, our players and our supporters with this dream. Our long term ambition is the creation of a stable second division team that excels in youth development and provides opportunity for the talents of the future.” Let’s leave that there.

Part 2: No stadium left behind

Orbán became PM once again in April 2010 after a landslide victory that pretty much granted him unlimited power. He chased lots of political agendas but one of his policies was rock solid: he would revive sports (and especially football) that was left to bleed out by the previous governments. The football situation in 2010 was quite dire: while the national team has actually made some progress in the recent years and has reached the 42nd position in the world rankings, football infrastructure was in a catastrophic state. Teams were playing in rusty stadiums built in the communist era, club finances were a mess, youth teams couldn’t find training grounds and the league was plagued by violent fan groups and lackluster attendance figures (3100 average spectators per game in the 2009/2010 season).
Orbán – aided by the FA backed by business actors very interested in making him happy – saw the future in the total rebuild of the football infrastructure. Vast amounts of state development funds were invested into the football construction industry that warmly welcomed corruption, cost escalation and shady procurement deals. In the end, money triumphed: over the last decade, new stadiums sprung out from nothing all over the country, dozens of new academies opened and pitches for youth development appeared on practically every corner. The final piece of the stadium renovation program was the completion of the new national stadium, Puskás Aréna in 2019 (estimated cost: 575 million EUR). Orbán commemorated this historic moment with a celebratory video on his social media that features a majestic shot of Orbán modestly kicking a CGI ball from his office to the new stadium.
Obviously, Orbán understood that infrastructure alone won’t suffice. He believed in the idea that successful clubs are the cornerstone of a strong national side as these clubs would compete in a high quality national league (and in international tournaments) that would require a constant influx of youth players developed by the clubs themselves. However, Orbán was not really keen on sharing the state’s infinite wealth with private club owners who failed to invest in their clubs between 2002 and 2010. The club ownership takeover was not that challenging as previous owners were usually happy to cut their losses, and soon enough most clubs came under Orbán’s influence. Some clubs were integrated deep into Orbán’s reach (Ferencváros and MTK Budapest club presidents are high ranking officials of Orbán’s party) while in other cases, indirect control was deemed sufficient (Diósgyőri VTK was purchased by a businessman as an attempt to display loyalty to Orbán).
Pouring taxpayer money into infrastructure (stadium) projects is relatively easy: after all, we are basically talking about overpriced government construction projects, there’s nothing new there. On the other hand, allocating funds to clubs that should be operating on a competitive market is certainly a tougher nut to crack. The obvious solutions were implemented: the state media massively overpaid for broadcasting rights and the national sports betting agency also pays a hefty sum to the FA, allowing for a redistribution of considerable amounts. However, given that the income side of Hungarian clubs was basically non-existent (match day income is negligible, the failed youth development system does not sell players), an even more radical solution was desperately needed. Also, there was definite interest in the development of a tool that would allow for differentiation between clubs (as in the few remaining non-government affiliated clubs should not receive extra money).
The solution came in 2011: the so-called TAO (“társasági adó” = corporate tax) system was introduced, granting significant tax deductions for companies if they offered a portion of their profits to sports clubs – however, in theory, funds acquired through TAO can be only used for youth development and infrastructure purposes. Soon enough, it became apparent that state authorities were not exactly interested in the enforcement of these restrictions, so some very basic creative accounting measures enabled clubs to use this income for anything they wanted to. Companies were naturally keen on cutting their tax burdens and scoring goodwill with the government, so TAO money immediately skyrocketed. Opportunistic party strongmen used their influence to convince local business groups to invest in the local clubs, enabling for the meteoric rise of multiple unknown provincial teams (Mezőkövesd [pop: 16,000], Kisvárda [pop: 16,000], Balmazújváros [pop: 17,000]) into the first division.
Although it’s not the main subject of this piece, I feel inclined to show you the actual results of Orbán’s grandiose football reform. While we do have our beautiful stadiums, we don’t exactly get them filled – league attendance has stagnated around 3000 spectators per game throughout the whole decade. We couldn’t really move forward with our national team either: Hungary lost 10 positions in the FIFA World Rankings throughout Orbán’s ten years. On the other hand, the level of league has somewhat improved – Videoton and Ferencváros reached the Europa League group stage in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Too bad that the Instat-based top team of 2019/2020 Hungarian league consists of 10 foreigners and only 1 Hungarian: the goalkeeper.

Part 3: Small place, big game!

As seen in the previous chapter, Orbán did have a strong interest in the improvement of the football situation Hungary, but we shouldn’t forget that his deepest interest and true loyalty laid in the wellbeing of Felcsút and its academy. Now that Orbán had limitless means to see to the advancement of his beloved club, he got to work immediately. Orbán handed over formal club management duties to his friend / protégé / middleman / businessman Lőrinc Mészáros in 2010, but no questions would ever arise of who is actually calling the shots.
First of all, no club can exist without a proper stadium. Although in 2011 Orbán explicitly stated that “Felcsút does not need a stadium as stadiums belong to cities”, no one was really surprised in 2012 when the construction of the Felcsút stadium was announced. Orbán was generous enough to donate the lands just in front of his summer home in the village for the project, locating the entrance a mere ten meters away from his residence. Construction works for the stunningly aesthetic 3,800-seater arena (in a village of 1,800 people) started in April 2012 and were completed in April 2014, making Felcsút’s arena the second new stadium of Orbán’s gigantic stadium revival program.
The estimated budget of the construction was 120 million EUR (31,500 EUR / seat) was financed by the Puskás Academy who explicitly stated that they did not use government funds for the project. Technically, this statement is absolutely true as the construction was financed through the TAO money offered by the numerous companies looking for tax deduction and Orbán’s goodwill. However, technically, this means that the country’s budget was decreased by 120 million EUR unrealized tax revenue. Naturally, the gargantuan football stadium looks ridiculously out of place in the small village, but there’s really no other way to ensure that your favorite team’s stadium is within 20 seconds of walking distance from your home.
Obviously, a proper club should also have some glorious history. Felcsút was seriously lagging behind on this matter as though Felcsút FC was founded in 1931, it spent its pre-Orbán history in the uninspiring world of the 5th-7th leagues of the country. Luckily enough, Orbán had already secured Puskás’ naming rights and they were not afraid to use it, so Felcsút FC was renamed to Puskás Academy FC in 2009. The stadium name was a little bit problematic as the Hungarian national stadium in Budapest had sadly had the dibs on Puskás’ name, so they had to settle with Puskás’ Spanish nickname, resulting in the inauguration of the Pancho Arena. But why stop here? Orbán’s sports media strongman György Szöllősi acted upon the contract with Puskás’ widow and transferred all Puskás’ personal memorabilia (medals, jerseys, correspondence) to the most suitable place of all: a remote village in which Puskás never even set foot in.
While the off-field issues were getting resolved, Orbán’s attention shifted to another important area: the actual game of football. Although academy players started to graduate from 2008 on, it very soon became painfully obvious that the academy program couldn’t really maintain even a second division side for now. In 2009, Orbán reached an agreement with nearby Videoton’s owner that effectively transformed Felcsút FC into Videoton’s second team under the name of Videoton – Puskás Akadémia FC. The mutually beneficent agreement would allow Videoton to give valuable playing time to squad players while it could also serve as a skipping step for Puskás Academy’s fresh graduates to a first league team. The collaboration resulted in two mid-table finishes and a bronze medal in the second division in the following three seasons that wasn’t really impressive compared to Felcsút FC’s standalone seasons.
It seemed that the mixture of reserve Videoton players and academy youth was simply not enough for promotion, and although Orbán had assured the public multiple times that his Felcsút project was not aiming for the top flight, very telling changes arose after the 2011/2012 season. Felcsút terminated the Videoton cooperation deal and used the rapidly accumulating TAO funds to recruit experienced players for the now independently operating Puskás Academy FC (PAFC). The new directive worked almost too well: PAFC won its division with a 10 point lead in its first standalone year which meant that they would have to appear in the first league prior to the completion of their brand-new Pancho Arena. Too bad that this glorious result had almost nothing to do with the academy - only two players were academy graduates of the side’s regular starting XI.
Orbán did not let himself bothered with the ridiculousness of an academy team with virtually no academy players being promoted to the first division as he stated that “a marathon runner shouldn’t need to explain why the other runners were much slower than him”. Orbán also displayed a rare burst of modesty as he added that “his team’s right place is not in the first league, and they will soon be overtaken by other, better sides”.
The promotion of PAFC to the first division made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. Supporter groups were united in hatred all along the league and not surprisingly, away fans almost always outnumbered the home side at PAFC’s temporary home at Videoton’s Sóstói Stadium (demolished and rebuilt in its full glory since then). One of the teams, however, possessed an extraordinary degree of anger against PAFC: supporters of Budapest Honvéd – the only Hungarian team in which Ferenc Puskás played – felt especially awkward about the transfer of their club legend’s heritage to Felcsút. Tensions spiked at the PAFC – Honvéd game when home security forced Honvéd supporters to remove the “Puskás” part of their traditional “Puskás – Kispest – Hungary” banner – the team answered the insult with style as they secured a 4-0 victory supported by fans chanting “you can’t buy legends”.
Despite Orbán’s prognosis, other better sides did not rush to overtake his team, so PAFC, now residing in their brand new Pancho Arena, came through with a 14th and a 10th place in their first two seasons. Naturally, conspiracy theories began to formulate, speculating that government-friendly owners would certainly not be motivated to give their best against PAFC. However, as the league size was reduced to 12 for the 2015/2016 season, PAFC found themselves in a dire situation just before the final round: they needed a win and needed rival Vasas to lose against MTK in order to avoid relegation. PAFC’s draw seemed to be unlucky as they faced their arch-enemy Honvéd at home, but Honvéd displayed an absolute lackluster effort – fueling conspiracy theories – and lost the fixture 2 to 1 against a home side featuring four academy players. Vasas, however, did not disappoint, their 2-0 victory resulted in PAFC’s elimination and a very relaxed sigh all over the football community.
PAFC’s relegation seemed to be in accordance with Orbán’s 2013 statement, so public opinion supposed for a while that Orbán’s project came to a halting point and the Academy would go on to actually field academy players in the second division (especially as rostering foreign players was prohibited in the lower leagues). However, if you have read through this point, you know better than to expect Orbán to retreat – obviously, PAFC came back with a bang. With a ballsy move, PAFC didn’t even sell their foreign players, they just loaned them across the league, promising them that they would be able to return next year to the newly promoted team. The promise was kept as PAFC went into another shopping spree of experienced players (easily convincing lots of them to choose the second division instead of the first) and easily won the second league.
Orbán – now aware of his negligence – opted for the doubling the team’s budget, making PAFC the third most well-founded club in the whole country (only coming short to his friend’s Videoton and his party minion’s Ferencváros). With an actual yearly influx from TAO money in the ballpark of 30-40 million EUR, PAFC management had to really work wonders in creative accounting in order to make their money look somewhat legitimate. The books were now full of ridiculous items like:
Naturally, in the country of no consequences, absolutely nothing happened: PAFC went on with its spending and signed 35 foreigners between 2017 and 2020. They did so because they could not hope to field a winning team in the first league consisting of academy players, despite the fact that Puskás Academy has been literally drowning in money since 2007. This seems to somewhat contradict Orbán’s 2013 promise, stating that “Puskás Academy will graduate two or three players to major European leagues each year”. To be fair, there have been players who managed to emerge to Europe (well, exactly two of them: Roland Sallai plays at Freiburg, László Kleinheisler played at Werder Bremen) but most academy graduates don’t even have the slightest the chance to make their own academy’s pro team as it’s full of foreigners and more experienced players drawn for other teams’ programs.
Despite their unlimited funding, PAFC could not put up a top-tier performance in their first two years back in the first division, finishing 6th and 7th in the 12-team league. Many speculated that the lack of support, motivation and even a clear team mission did not allow for chemistry to develop within the multinational and multi-generational locker room. Consistency was also a rare sight on the coaching side: club management was absolutely impatient with coaches who were very easily released after a single bad spell and there were talks of on-field micromanagement request coming from as high as Orbán.
Even so, their breakthrough came dangerously close in 2018 as PAFC performed consistently well in the cup fixtures and managed to reach the final. Their opponent, Újpest played an incredibly fierce game and after a 2-2 draw, they managed to defeat PAFC in the shootout. Football fans sighed in relief throughout the country as ecstatic Újpest supporters verbally teased a visibly upset Orbán in his VIP lounge about his loss.
Obviously, we could only delay the inevitable. While this year’s PAFC side seemed to be more consistent than its predecessors, it seemed that they won’t be able to get close to the podium - they were far behind the obvious league winner duo of Ferencváros and Videoton and were trailing third-place Mezőkövesd 6 points just before the pandemic break. However, both Mezőkövesd and PAFC’s close rivals DVTK and Honvéd fall flat after the restart while PAFC was able to maintain its good form due to its quality roster depth. PAFC overtook Mezőkövesd after the second-to-last round as Mezőkövesd lost to the later relegated Debrecen side. (Mezőkövesd coach Attila Kuttor was fined harshly because of his post-game comments on how the FA wants PAFC to finish third.)
PAFC faced Honvéd in the last round once again, and as Honvéd came up with its usual lackluster effort, PAFC secured an effortless win, confidently claiming the third place. PAFC celebrated their success in a nearly empty stadium, however neither Orbán, nor Mészáros (club owner, Orbán’s protégé, now 4th richest man of Hungary) seemed to worry about that. While Orbán high-fived with his peers in the VIP lounge, Mészáros was given the opportunity to award the bronze medals (and for some reason, a trophy) to the players dressed up in the incredibly cringe worthy T-shirts that say “Small place, big game!”. Big game, indeed: in the 2019/2020 season, foreign players’ share of the teams playing time was 43.6% while academy graduates contributed only 17.9%.
On Sunday evening, less than 24 hours after PAFC’s glorious success, György Szöllősi, now editor-in-chief of Hungary’s only sports newspaper (purchased by Orbán’s affiliates a few years back) published an editorial on the site, stating that “the soccer rebuild in Felcsút became the motor and symbol of the revitalization of sport throughout the whole country”. Well, Szöllősi is exactly right: Felcsút did became a symbol, but a symbol of something entirely different. Felcsút became a symbol of corruption, inefficiency, lies and the colossal waste of money. But, hey, at least we know now: you only need to spend 200 million EUR (total budget of PAFC and its academy in the 2011-2020 period) if you want to have a Europa League team in your backyard. Good to know!

Epilogue: What's in the future?

As there is no foreseeable chance for political change to happen Hungary (Orbán effortlessly secured qualified majority in 2014 and 2018, and is projected to do so in 2022 as well), PAFC’s future seems to be as bright as it gets. Although consensus opinion now seems to assume that Orbán does not intend to interfere with the Ferencváros – Videoton hegemony, we can never be really sure about the exact limits of his greed. One could also argue that entering the European theater serves as a prime opportunity for making splashy transfers who could be the cornerstones of a side challenging the league title.
However, as all political systems are deemed to fall, eventually Orbán’s regime will come apart. Whoever will take upon the helm after Orbán, they will certainly begin with cutting back on the one item on Orbán’s agenda that never had popular support: limitless football spending. Puskás Academy, having next to zero market revenue, will not be able to survive without the state’s life support, so the club will fold very shortly. The abandoned, rotting stadium in Felcsút will serve as a memento of a powerful man who could not understand the true spirit of football.
But let’s get back to present day, as we have more pressing issues coming up soon: PAFC will play their first European match in the First qualifying round of the Europa League on 27 August. We don’t have a date for the draw yet, but soon enough, a team unaware of the whole situation will be selected to face the beast. I hope that maybe one of their players does some research and maybe reads this very article for inspiration. I hope that the supporters of this club get in touch with Honvéd fans who would be eager to provide them with some tips on appropriate chants. I hope that other teams gets drawn as the home team so Orbán wouldn’t get the pleasure of walking to his stadium for an international match. But most importantly, I very much hope that this team obliterates PAFC and wipes them off the face of the earth. 5-0 will suffice, thank you.
And if this team fails to do that, we don’t have to worry yet. Due to our shitty league coefficient, PAFC would need to win four fixtures in a row. And that – if there’s any justice in this world – is a thing that can’t, that won’t happen. Ball don’t lie – if I may say.
Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán redirected some 200 million EUR of taxpayer money over 10 years to fuel his ambition of raising a competitive football team in his hometown of 1,800 people. He built a 3,800-seater stadium in his backyard, expropriated football legend Ferenc Puskás’ trademarks and heritage and built up a football league where almost all clubs are owned by his trustees. His team, Puskás Akadémia FC was originally intended to be a development ground for youth players graduating from Orbán’s football academy, but eventually the team became more and more result-orianted. Finally, a roster full of foreign and non-academy players came through and finished third in the league, releasing this abomination of a team to the European football theatre. Please, knock them out asap!
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[Tales From the Terran Republic] Intermission: The Beginning of the End

Just a little intermission, a palate cleanser. Nothing of importance happens here... Nope...
An elder race just tells off a Federation lackey, that's all... Nothing of any other significance takes place...
The rest of this series can be found here
Councilor Karashel the sole representative of the baleel species, emotionally drained and mentally exhausted, made her way to the large gardens in the courtyard of the Federation Council building. She was carrying a brightly colored Baleean lunchbox, a gift from her mother, but the day’s events had robbed her of any appetite. The assortment of pickles and starchy grains so anticipated when she packed them this morning held very little interest now.
She still couldn’t believe it. The Federation, her Federation, had actually arranged for a Terran bio-weapon to ravage the humans. “Arranged” was precisely the right term. Trusted members of the council entrusted to direct Emergency Response and Public Health had intentionally mismanaged the situation to the point that it could be called mass-murder.
Her people were outraged. She was outraged and she was even further outraged by everyone else not being outraged.
It wasn’t that she was fond of the humans, far from it. They didn’t have exactly the best reputation and the only “ambassadors” that they had sent to the Baleel’s home system promptly wound up in jail.
They also seem to be overly involved in the instigation of the horrific war with the Republic, a war that caused over a billion deaths across the Federation, most of them civilians.
This was being used unofficially to somehow justify what happened. This, was in Karashel’s opinion, a blatant and criminal attempt at manipulation and misdirection. They might have wanted war but they weren’t the ones who sent the ships, we were.
And she just sat there and let it happen without complaint, just like a good little member of the Benevolence Party was supposed to. She was dead set against that void-blessed war and she just…
Damn it. Damn it all and damn her for voting for it, just like the party said she should. All those deaths that her fellow councilors kept bring up today?
Those dead are our fault, not the humans... Ours!
And if everything wasn’t already bad enough, she had the void-blessed Terrans to thank for bringing this horror to light. The damned Terrans were doing a better job of looking out for the Federation than the Council was!
In a completely mystifying move, it seems that some Terrans, mortal enemies of the Federation humans (She absolutely refused to use the term “porkie”—The actual meaning of that term was horrible!), hacked the Federation (another outrage that nobody seems to be outraged about) and released the information that confirmed the suspicions that the Federation humans already had.
Why would the Terrans do that? It completely mystified her.
It was an intriguing question but completely overshadowed by other far more pressing ones. Why haven’t the councilors responsible for this outrage been arrested? Why haven’t there been attempts to correct the situation? Oh they say that corrections are being made but she wasn’t convinced. Neither were a lot of other councilors.
Far more importantly, neither were the humans.
Their reaction was actually quite reasonable under the situation. The Baleel would do much the same, at least she hoped they would.
And our response? Martial law and the dispatch of enough forces to shove them right back into those death camps!
With the blessing of her people, she recently switched parties to join the opposition party. She had just weathered quite the verbal lashing for it and the threats she received will keep her up for months but screw it.
Sometimes you just have to take a stand. What the Federation did and what it is doing is wrong.
Part of her hoped that the humans would somehow prevail. There was absolutely no chance of that though. When the Federation’s armored leg plates hit the human worlds and all of their major enclaves today it would be over.
That was why she just made the costly decision that she made yesterday. The councilors were the people’s, all people’s, representatives.
If they didn’t protect the people of the Federation, even the oily humans, then who would?
She took a deep breath, trying to relax as she undulated into the wonderfully landscaped gardens, one of her favorite places ever. The collection of plants and animals from countless worlds all carefully selected to be able to live together in harmony was nothing less than beautiful.
We might not be able to defend ourselves from the Terrans or protect our people from MASS MURDER but at least we can make something really pretty.
She winced. The past few days even robbed this place, her favorite place, of any appeal. Today, it… it nauseated her.
She wanted nothing more than to just quit, go home, and open that plant nursery she always dreamed about. It was a shame she couldn’t do that. She had a responsibility to her people and to the Federation. As tiny as her voice was at least it was something. She would at least stick it out until the crisis was over.
She sat at her favorite table and opened her lunch. After a few bites she set down her tongs with a sigh. She couldn’t eat. She packed her lunch back up and started to wander the grounds trying to clear her head.
As she undulated about she noticed Caw Itsheeh, the Xx councilor, standing next to a pond, feeding the fish. He looked… sad?… much different than the haughty, icy-cold, downright malicious fiend that walked through the council chambers with much the same air as someone walking through a manure-filled stockyard.
Approaching him would guarantee a scathing insult carefully calibrated to hurt whatever species he was addressing the most but she just had to. There was something that she just had to know, something worth the mental and emotional laceration that she would receive.
Besides, after the past few days part of her felt that at least whatever horrible thing he would say would be a nice distraction. She smiled to herself as she wondered whether it would hone in on their physical insecurities, their lack of wealth and power, or maybe something new, something about them that even they hadn’t considered.
Imagine! A whole new way to feel bad about myself! What the hell was wrong with her.
She caught his eye as she approached. Instantly, whatever was standing there before was replaced by the dreaded Caw Itsheesh before which councilors fled in terror. It was as if a winter gale started to blow and when she made eye-contact she wanted to turn and run.
“What?” he asked in a cool tone. Part of her was terrified. Another part was impressed. He had never spoken to her before. The sheer amount of disdain he could pack into a single syllable was astounding.
“Excuse me, councilor,” she stammered. “Could… could I ask you a question?”
“I hope that simple query isn’t beyond even your capacity,” the Xx replied with a flick of his brilliant blue crest, normally completely concealed amid the small iridescent dark purple feathers of his reptilian head.
“Um… yes… I… I wonder… I mean I would like to know...”
The Xx sighed.
“Once again, my hopes are dashed,” the Xx sneered and turned back to the fish. A disdainful flick of his slender fingers tipped with lacquered talons indicated that the conversation was over.
Why do you hate us?” she blurted at the back of his head.
The Xx flicked his crest and turned to face her. She suppressed a real instinct to run as he “smiled” revealing wickedly sharp translucent almost crystalline looking teeth.
“Oh my dear, you misunderstand,” he almost purred. “I don’t hate you. I don’t hate anyone here.”
“You… you don’t.”
“Absolutely,” the Xx replied. “Hate requires effort, something that I wouldn’t deign to expend on your behalf. You… the emotion I feel when looking at you isn’t hate. It’s more akin to the feeling one gets when they step in excrement, unpleasant to be sure, but not hate.”
He’s right, she thought to herself in shame. Compared to him, to his race, we are just that, shit between his toes… Why did I even think I could talk to-… Wait just one void-kissed minute!
She took a second to collect herself. This is what he does, she reminded herself. She had even braced herself for this. He know exactly how to hit you. She was getting pretty damned tired of getting knocked around by the council and trampled by the bullies on it.
That stops today. Right here and right now. She was going to get a void-blessed answer out of him!
“But, why?” she asked holding her ground. “Why do you feel that way?”
Caw Itsheesh cocked his head curiously and actually looked at her. Once again she had to fight the urge to run as she shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny.
“Why?” Caw Itsheesh asked. “What do you hope to get out of this? If it is finding out a way to gain our favor you won’t get it.”
“No,” she stammered, “It’s nothing like that. I… I just want to know.”
She fidgeted and looked away, unable to withstand his withering glare any further.”
“I’ve always wondered and… and… I just had to know… That’s all...”
The Xx’s crest raised to its full height as it growled slightly. It then stood there and silently looked directly into her eyes, dissecting her with his gaze. It took everything she had not to just flee in terror.
“That’s it?” Caw Itsheesh asked in a truly disturbing tone of voice. “You intruded on my meditations, my remembrance, just because you wished to wanted to know something? You dared to approach me, a member of a race that, relative to you, is so advanced that you are incapable of truly understanding how inferior you are simply because you ‘just had to know’ something?”
Oh this was a mistake, she thought in terror. I’ve never seen it look at anyone the way it is looking at me right now. Oh creators! Have I offended it? What will it do to me? Oh abyss! What will it do to us?
“I… I’m sorry...” she managed to stammer in a small voice.
“Don’t be,” the Xx said with that same tone. “A honest request for knowledge and knowledge alone from someone consumed with only the desire to know it is worth my effort. In fact, it is the only thing that has been worth my effort in quite awhile. My dear… what are you, exactly?”
“A… A baleel, e… exalted one,” she stammered.
“First off I hold no special station or position,” he said pulling out a strange looking flat crystalline object. “I hold the same rank as you. Dispense with all of those fake titles. The only ones that use them are the ones licking my underside hoping that something might stick to their mouthparts,” it said as it tapped and drug his fingers on what appeared to be some sort of data tablet. “My name is Caw. Anything more is just a waste of my time.”
“Y-yes, sir,” she stammered.
“Sir is ok if you must,” he muttered as he continued to fiddle with the strange looking tablet. “However, I prefer ‘Caw’. Let’s see… Baleel… Baleel… Oh, here you are…” it said as it examined his tablet. “Hmm… About what I thought...” he muttered as he read.
After several long and very uncomfortable seconds he tucked his data tablet away.
“As I was saying, my dear baleel,” the Xx said in that same scary voice, “The desire to acquire knowledge for its own sake is the purest motive for wishing to acquire it. I am happy to give you an answer. That knowledge might not be what you expect. In fact I seriously doubt you will be pleased with it once you receive it but that is often the case when one seeks knowledge...”
The Xx approached Karashel and “smiled” revealing those terrifying fangs again.
“And once gained knowledge is not easily forgotten,” he said. “Do you still want it, that knowledge, even if I guarantee that it will be of no use to you or your people and will be unpleasant to hear?”
“Fair enough,” the Xx smiled. “I have already clarified that I, that we, do not ‘hate’ you. I assume that your question has now changed to ‘Why do we loathe you’. Yes?”
Karashel bobbed her body up and down in her species’s version of a nod.
“Then I have a question for you,” Caw said in that weird voice. “How long have you been a part of the Federation?”
“I… I don’t know,” Karashel said meekly.
“Ugh,” Caw said with disdain. “You could have at least known that. You have been a member of the Federation for one-hundred and eighty-three standard Federation years. There, a free piece of knowledge from an ‘Exalted One’. You should be grateful.”
“Oh be quiet,” Xx snapped. “One-hundred and eighty-three years, for one-hundred and eighty-three years you have had access to the accumulated knowledge and technology of the Federation.”
Xx stooped down to look her directly in the eyes. Karashel flinched.
“And in all of that time what have you contributed?”
“Yes,” Xx replied. “What has the Baleel contributed to that knowledge, that technology?”
“I don’t-”
“Nothing,” Xx said. “not one single advancement of any sort in any field.”
Caw shook his head disapprovingly.
“If we were guilty of such sloth, our entire race would sterilize itself out of shame, but not all races have been blessed by the Progenitors as we have. Simply copying the knowledge of your betters might be all your kind is capable of. It would be unfair to expect a truly deficient race to meet our standards,” he sneered. “Ok, so you've decided to just copy, just use what is handed to you. What have you accomplished with it?”
“Yes,” Caw replied. “You have been freely given so much. Science, mathematics, technology… You even have schematics and assembly diagrams! You can buy equipment, load in a design that someone else has already created, and push a button. You have everything you need to create a true post-scarcity society and more!”
He looked her gravely.
“Councilor, do you have a post-scarcity society?”
“A post-”
“Look it up!” Xx snapped. “The answer is no you don’t have one. That might be a bit overly ambitious though. How about something more simple, more direct, medicine? With all of the scientific theory, and equipment at your fingertips your medical science should be on par with any in the galaxy. Is it? The answer is a resounding no. Your medical sciences have benefited, to be sure, but only by default. Your doctors have learned to use scanners. Amazing!”
“But nothing,” Caw replied. “Compared to where, even by the most forgiving of standards, it should be your medicine sucks. I could spend all day pulling up example after example in field after field but you baleel have done nothing. You haven’t designed your own ships, you just copy pre-existing plans and that’s only for small shuttles. You have never built an FTL drive, not even a copy. Whatever starships that fly under your flag are purchased. What little industry you do have relies entirely on capital equipment that you buy and install. In the past one-hundred and eighty-three years you haven’t even designed a manufacturing facility! You have literally done nothing but copy, copy, copy and you barely do that.”
Karashel shifted uncomfortably. She could feel her skin temperature drop from embarrassment.
“As far as your knowledge goes,” Caw continued. “tell me, councilor, what are the five basic requirements for entering hyperspace?”
“While I would love to say that every Xx knows that every race has its embarrassments,” Caw said disdainfully. “The five requirements are taught as part of our elementary school education! Tell me, do you even bother teaching them… at all?”
“’Um’ is right. Here’s an easy one,” Caw said. “Which quarks comprise a proton?”
Karashel just looked downward. She didn’t even know what a quark was.
“Creator’s tears,” Caw muttered. “One more chance and if you don’t get this one my opinion of the baleel will do something I didn’t think possible. It will actually drop. What force much be overcome for fusion to occur?”
Karashel’s skin started to freeze with embarrassment. She didn’t know.
“You were never taught that, were you?” Caw said with pity in his voice.
“I’m not an engineer so-” she started to say defensively.
“Councilor, I am willing to make a one trillion credit bet with you,” Caw replied. “Are you willing to bet one trillion credits of your people’s money that if I call a random Baleel engineer he can answer all of the questions I just asked? We can do it right now.”
Karashel just looked down again. It was one thing to be told your race was the equivalent of shit between their toes. It was entirely another for it to be proven.
“I am going to be merciful and not tell you at which grade level those facts are taught,” Caw said in a gentle but disturbing voice. “I think I made my point.”
“But we aren’t an elder race! We-”
“And those aren’t elder concepts. Every single bit of that information is readily accessible to you. In fact, it’s pretty fundamental stuff,” Caw replied. “To be honest I would have been very pleasantly surprised if you got those questions correct. Getting all of them wrong was a bit surprising but, based on what we have come to expect from the Federation, far from a shock. You were quite wise not to cover that bet by the way. Misplaced pride has put more than one race in a very awkward situation. In case you are wondering I just let them sweat for a few days and then tell them that we will forgive the debt in exchange for that species never, ever speaking to us again for any reason.”
Caw chuckled.
“Oh the looks on their faces when they think we are serious about collecting, it never gets old! Anyway, do you see where I’m going here? Do you see the point I’m trying to make?”
“Good,” Caw said with a smile. “Now we can get into why we really don’t like you.”
“There’s more?!?!” she asked in horror.
“Oh my little baleel, we are only getting started,” Caw said with a wicked toothy grin, “but I’m no sadist. I just hate constantly stepping in shit. Is your hunger for knowledge satisfied or do you want to continue? Do you really want to know the rest?”
“I asked why you hated us and if this isn’t why then I have to know what is.”
Caw nodded approvingly.
“You aren’t the first sophont to ask but I have always lost them around this point, if they lasted that long. You might be as ignorant as a stone at least you are keen. I’ll give you that much,” Caw said in that strange tone that Karashel was starting to think was his actual voice. “Hmm… Yes. I know,” he said as he flicked his crest happily.
“I think a field trip is in order. Come on,” he said gesturing her to follow.
“But lunch is almost over and it's an emergency session!”
“What’s more important,” Caw asked, “some ‘vital’ council business or getting your question answered?” Caw started to walk away and said over his shoulder, “I’m not wasting my time twice.”
Karashel looked anxiously over at the council building for a moment and then rushed to catch up.
Caw didn’t look back but he heard her “running” behind him and smiled.
As the pair left the building a sleek, beautiful, grav-car pulled up beside them and the doors opened. Caw climbed in and gestured for Karashel to follow.
She looked around in amazement. She had never been in something so beautiful, so elegant, so advanced, so… so wow.
“Is this one of your embassy’s vehicles?” she asked in amazement and then winced at the stupid, obvious question.
“This?” Caw chuckled as he entered an address, “This is my personal vehicle. I had it shipped over. As far as diplomatic status is concerned we have found that the sight of us is protection enough.”
“This is yours?” she said in surprise. “How mu-” she caught herself. She was about to rudely ask how much it cost.
“Oh you primitives and your money,” Caw smiled. “It would be cute if it wasn’t so troublesome. It cost me nothing. By your definition, it was ‘free’.”
“Wha?” she stammered.
“Post-scarcity, primitive,” he laughed. “Might want to look into it.”
Caw leaned back and pulled out his tablet.
“Shall we continue?” he asked.
As the vehicle’s auto-navigation system guided them through the city streets Karashel was treated to a long, agonizing conversation where Caw, in brutal detail, further discussed the baleel’s shortcomings as a species.
It was horrible.
“… and with everything at your disposal over five percent of your population still lives in what is easily classified as abject poverty. Not good, primitive, not good at all… And while we are on the subject of poverty...”
She could do nothing but wince and wiggle uncomfortably as she weathered what was no longer an indictment of her people — it was a demonstration. He was now mercilessly and quite thoroughly proving that they were garbage.
“Don’t feel too badly,” Caw said as he offered her a cup from a built-in beverage dispenser. “You actually compare quite favorably to the rest of the Federation. Aside from your absolutely pathetic education you are solidly in the top twenty-five percent.”
“For example, let’s start with the z’uush...”
As she listened in absolute horror as Caw starting to talk about the bottom twenty-five—she had absolutely no idea! She was going to have a quite difficult time not physically attacking some of her “esteemed colleagues” when she got back.
The thought was idiotic. What was she going to do, wiggle on top of them and spank them with her radula? The image of her on top of one of the Kaarst councilors with her tongue raised in righteous fury flashed across her mind.
She couldn’t help but let out a little giggle.
Caw glared at her.
Oh shit...
“You find this amusing?” he snapped.
“No… sorry...” she replied quite nervously. “I just had a funny thought, that’s all.”
“Please enlighten me,” Caw replied with utter disgust. “Please tell me what you could possibly find funny? Are you so bored, so disinterested, that you feel the need to entertain yourself?” he asked with genuine irritation.
“No, it’s-”
“Then what?” he asked sharply.
As Karashel started to very nervously and reluctantly explain, Caw broke out into a loud screech, his crest raised to his fullest extent.
Oh no! she thought in complete terror. I blew it! I had the chance of a thousand lifetimes, a private audience with an elder race and I angered them! He’s right, I am a moron!
As Caw continued to screech she wondered if shame would be enough to convince a Baleel physician to sterilize her.
I just told him that not only are we hopeless, deep down we are also violent… I should just throw myself off of the council chambers and be done with it.
“If you do ever succumb your bestial rage,” Caw said, gasping for air, “be sure to check that your victim isn’t enjoying it!”
Caw turned to her and patted her top in what her race would consider a friendly manner.
“Karashel,” he said, “now you are starting to understand.”
“We are fucking scum! We are letting this happen!… I am letting this happen!... Fuck them and fuck me too!” Karashel , no longer able to contain her anger, shouted and then caught herself, looking over at Caw in complete horror. She had just uttered base profanity in front of an Xx. She uttered it to the void- humping Xx councilor!
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Kara,” Caw said patting her again. “We’re letting it happen too.”
“But, why?” she asked. “Why are you allowing this? Do you hate… sorry… loathe us that much?”
“What are we going to do, invade?” Caw said with a shrug, “Should we wage war upon the entire Federation? Even we aren’t that powerful and refuse to maim ourselves to the extent it would take to become so. Like it or not the Federation charter allows, within some very easily gamed or ignored guidelines, complete freedom for a member system to ‘write its own destiny’. Without completely tearing down and rebuilding the entire system from scratch there is nothing to stop the Z’uush, Kaarst, and countless others from doing exactly what they please… including allowing homeless to starve on their streets… Kara...”
Tear it down and rebuild the whole system from scratch... The words quietly slid into Karashel's soul.
“Yeah, we suck. You’ve made that quite clear,” Karashel replied angrily and looked out the window. The beautiful streets and buildings of the capital city she was used to had given way to shabby narrow ways and a motley assortment of structures. Where were they going?
She was afraid to ask her next question but, once again, she simply had to know.
“But surely you could do something,” she said, “You are an elder race! People respect you! Your voice could-”
“Be completely ignored,” Caw replied with a sneer. “Oh everyone begs and pleads for our ‘wisdom’ but when our fucking ‘ancient knowledge’ involves actual effort or won’t turn someone an immediate profit they tend to lose interest very quickly.”
He looked out the window and let out a warbling sigh.
“We chose to join the Federation out of convenience, not out of any altruistic urge,” Caw said after a few seconds. “Even so, we had hoped we could… bah… nevermind...”
Tear it all down and rebuild...
“The opposition party!” Karashel exclaimed. “We are trying to make a real difference! If you joined us maybe together we-”
Caw let out a coughing screech.
“Oh you adorable little hatchling,” Caw said, patting her fondly, “let me tell you about your precious ‘opposition party’...”
A few minutes later as Karashel, disillusioned to the point of heartbreak, silently looked out the window.
Tear it all down...
As she continued to look out at what had now become slums that further illustrated Caw’s point, the grav-car finally stopped in front of a run down masonry-block building.
The doors opened.
“Were are we?” Karashel asked. “What are we doing here?”
As Caw was climbing out of his grav-car he turned to her.
“I am about to show you a race that we actually respect more than almost any other.” Caw replied. “Not only that but I’m about to introduce you to a personal friend of mine. Come on.”
Karashel got out and looked around with seething anger. This was not the sort of neighborhood you wanted to be in at any time of the day. With all our wealth, all of our technology, all of our power, people still had to live like this, even in their capital.
Tear it all down...
“You won’t die between here and the door, Kara,” Caw snorted completely misinterpreting her delay. “Let’s go.”
Karashel started to head towards the door.
“Not that one,” Caw said and then walked into an alleyway.
Steeling what little nerves her race had she followed him into the alley. Soon she was standing at a side entrance with strange glyphs on the door. She had never seen anything like them before. What ancient race inscribed them?
“Now be polite,” Caw said sternly, “They are pretty thick-skinned but I am not, especially when my friends are slighted.”
He opened the door and walked in. Wondering what mysterious race she was about to encounter she nervously followed. Once inside she looked around curiously trying to find whatever elder, ancient, or notable race Caw had brought her to meet.
There was nothing in there but some aats. She raised her body up and stretched her eye-stalks to peer over them, looking for who they came to meet.
“Keej! Ha gara keek keek.” Caw said cheerfully to an aat behind a counter.
“Keej! Ku Xx. Juu lor Bujo?” the aat, possibly female?, replied casually.
“Sh. Bujo sr k?”
“Jee!” the aat squeaked. “Surj kalo.”
Their mystifying conversation continued in a language that, no matter how she adjusted her translator, she couldn’t understand.
Caw pulled out a bag from his coat and handed it to her. The aat eagerly opened the bag and squealed happily pulling out beautiful iridescent dark purple feathers… Xx feathers!
The aat quickly climbed over the counter and gave Caw a hug. Karashel gasped. That aat just dared to touch an Xx, the poor thing! There was no telling what Caw do her for that insult.
When Caw returned the hug she gasped again.
“Now please you stop try pluck me when back turned every time?” Caw chided.
“Your fault for being pretty pretty,” the aat replied as she playfully tugged at one of his feathers.
“Hey!” Caw screeched as the room broke into laughter.
He turned to Karashel.
“Apologies for speaking in a language you did not know,” he chuckled. “The aat’s language is very challenging and I like to keep in practice.”
“It’s the aats,” Karashel said with a chuckle. “You brought me here to meet the aats.”
“I was expecting more of a reaction,” Caw replied with an amused flick of his crest.
“At this point,” she replied, “you still expect me to be shocked by you? Just demonstrate your point, I honestly want to know.”
Caw looked at her intently. Deciding that she was in fact sincere he “smiled”.
“Very well,” he said, “But first some more abuse.” He turned to the aat that was now sitting on the counter staring happily into the bag she received.
“Hey, Skalee, tell my friend here the joke about the candle.”
“No. Not nice. Me nice.”
“But you one who told me.”
“Not nice telling it to her. Telling you, funny. Telling her, mean.”
“Fine,” Caw chuckled, “I mean. I tell her.”
He turned to face Karashel.
“Tell me, Kara,” he smiled. “How many Feds does it take to light a candle?”
Karashel just sighed and retracted her eyestalks a little. As the entire room looked at her expectantly.
“Well?” Caw asked.
“What’s a candle?”
The room burst into squealing laughter.
“You steal joke!” Skalee squealed with delight. “Clever clever!”
“No.” Karashel sighed. “I honestly have absolutely no idea what a candle is.”
The room fell into a shocked silence.
“...You still smart...” Skalee said with pity in her voice. “Just star-soft. Not dumb.”
“No we aren’t,” Karashel replied. “The whole point of this excursion was to prove that.”
“Trip,” Karashel replied. “It’s a word ‘star-soft’ people use for a trip.”
“That’s mean,” Skalee said glaring at Caw. “You too mean.”
“You deal with star-soft dumb butt all day,” Caw replied. “You turn mean too.”
“Never be where turn mean,” Skalee said, “Be there stupid stupid.”
“Yes. Stupid.” Caw replied. “Very stupid but stupid before now stuck.”
Skalee patted Caw consolingly. “It ok. You be nice here. Take bath in nice. Wash mean off.”
“Why you think I here so much?” Caw laughed. “You have sunny day!”
“You too!”
He turned to Karashel.
“The punchline is ‘None, because they are stupid.’”
“Yeah, kinda figured that out, but what is a candle?”
“I only agreed to answer one question. I’m not an encyclopedia.”
“An encyclopedia?”
Caw facepalmed.
“Just… Don’t,” Karashel sighed. “I’ll look it up.”
Caw flicked his crest and smiled. That was the right answer.
“Let’s go out back and we will finally get to the main reason that we don’t like you.”
“Oh yes, hatchling, there’s more,” Caw snickered as he headed towards the back entrance.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” she muttered as she undulated after him.
Author's note 1: This was getting long so I decide to put this up and will post the second part shortly after which we will be getting back to the story proper very soon!
Author's note2: There is a lot of lore in the comments of these stories, oodles of Easter Eggs! I absolutely love comments and read every single one! My readers are encouraged to ask questions and I usually answer. This has generated a lot of the lore and backstory that forms the foundation of The Tales. I usually comes into play later and the story can be fully enjoyed without delving into the threads but there is almost always something of interest hiding in there!
submitted by slightlyassholic to HFY [link] [comments]

[GUIDE] Reviving Hell Dungeon - Advancing and Maximizing Rewards

A quick, post-patch guide for the Reviving Hell dungeon to those struggling with it. I will develop it as I go through it, so, if you find incorrect information, let me know.

This is a both time and damage gated game mode that rewards you with awakening XP potions. You have 3 minutes to complete it, but also a 1 minute individual times on each character that ticks down once they are on screen. As soon as it reaches 0, you can no longer use that character.
Each stage has a recommended level and penalties. The penalties are damage reflect for characters of the wrong color at first, but later on, you need both an adequate color + type (example: a yellow balance team) - I think this starts at around lvl 14 or so now. The damage reflect cannot be compensated with regeneration, not even with Orochi Iori with Green Defense Athena as a leader. Don't even try it.
You also generally wanna go as far as possible in the tiers for better rewards, since now most of your rewards come from the daily, free auto-clear. There might be some specific cases where this is not true as discussed ahead.
Your daily progress is reseted to the first stage of whatever tier you stopped at, so do your best to at least farm the current stages to as far you can before the daily reset (you get a small amount of XP potions from each stage completion in addition to the auto-clear rewards, but limited to the highest quality potion currently available to you).

2-) GENERAL INFORMATION (skip if you want, this is just an explanation, how to use it will be further below)

a) First of all, the level recommendation is more of a level requirement! Being below the required average level of your party nets you a hefty damage penalty that may prevent you from progressing.
I will explain this to you with videos I took from my playthroughs:
In the video above, I am at Stage 13 - 1 using The Rock lvl 4, Geese XIV lvl 9 and Lady Big lvl 14. Lady Big has a Mr. Big set and FES level cards (exact ones shown in the video), as well as full capsules. It was a failure.
Check out the boss battle at 3:55.
Lady Big does extra damage to enemies under poison. And she is somewhat high level, so her awakening combo should do decent damage, right? Wrong! She is doing a pitiful 2 digits to 3 digits damage with him poisoned, doing around 300 - 600 for each hit. This is atrocious damage!
Now check out the second video of the same stage where I managed to complete. I am using the exact same team, with the exact same card loadout, except Lady Big is now lvl 15:
Please, look at 2:20, when I switch to Lady Big, and see her damage. She is doing 4 to 5 digit damage! The damage is going from 4000 all the way to 60000 per hit. All from a SINGLE level! This is obviously not a result of the stat boost from it, which is truly minimal. I simply got over the threshold for whatever average the game requires for that stage without penalizing the player.
You can see this clearly by comparing the damage done by the other 2 characters, who didn't change absolutely anything (same level, same cards, same leadership), but are also doing a lot more damage.
b) The same videos also show you that DoT (damage over time) do not incur in that penalty, meaning you can use it to brute force your way through certain stages. I did that in my previous run through the dungeon before the patch.
You can check the videos I posted on the Netmarble forums in a guide I initially made there if you are curious. I was trying to make a guide on how to progress using the least resources possible, so DoT was playing a big part (I am no longer doing that):
As an example from that thread, here is my run with a Yellow team run showing Charlotte doing 2 digit to low 3 digit damage, but hitting pretty hard with her blood DoT and blood crits:
Heihachi, Pretty Yashiro, Nakoruru etc - they all have a similar effect, so you can use them pretty effectively unawakened as team filler.

With that in mind, here are some best practises to approach this game mode:
- You will need a wide variety of characters to go through this mode (3 teams of each color eventually), so plan ahead your awakenings and who you will invest in;
- Specials stop all timers;
- Stalling for time can be important to recover an awakening combo cooldown or a tag cooldown, so 3 PG specials and PG charging characters are great;
- Your special usage should be either for time stalling, to group up enemies or to avoid incoming damage (example: you got caught by those turrets, so you use your quick dodge, but you have no SA or HA to use. In that case, you can either switch out or use a special, preferably one that groups up enemies in front of you);
- Try and keep the timer of all your 3 characters more or less equivalent, so you might always have 3 characters to use. That is important because it allows you to cycle through all your skills, switch, do the same, switch etc;
- Attack capsules are king. Defense capsules are good for Defense characters, or those with a Def to Attack core or skill, but attack capsules are still better, so if you have selectors, you might wanna focus on getting those, but its up to you;
- Extend combos by switching out once you depleted your skills. If you have a carry, try to only put him / her on the field if you will have a tag ready after finishing all skills;
- Remember you can tag out during a skill use, so use the slowest, longest lasting skill last so you can switch during its animation;
- Positioning is extremely important! Do not leave stragglers! Reposition if necessary, even if that means stopping a combo, unless you are close to building enough PG to fire off an enemy grouping special;
- SA or HA are preferred. Damage immunity is not really that useful here;
- A weak character is still useful to group up enemies and spend time so you can bring your strong ones in the field with all cooldowns reseted. I used Haohmaru a lot for this back when he was unawakened and in a penalized team;
- DoT damage and crit explosion damage (Heihachi, Charlotte, Geese) is unaffected by penalties, so keep that in mind when making teams;
- At the boss, use your skills and accumulated special at the start before you commence the awakening combo, since you will get a full bar out of it again. As soon as awakening finishes, use your special again + a new cycle of skills if ready before switching out.
- Try to avoid entering the boss room with your strongest character, since you lose some seconds during the scene transition;
- You have a bigger problem with damage than time, so you dont necessarily need to use Time Attack tricks to shave off time, like firing off specials before enemies fade entirely to save time. But you can if you want.

This is important enough to warrant it's own section.
First of all, the farther away the levels, the more potions are required to level up. To lvl 2, you just need 2. To lvl 3, it's 3, I think, and so on.
But do NOT use your awakening potions at first!
Since you will be level gated in this mode, it is best to simply accumulate them and go as far as you can with each one of your teams, and start using them once you can no longer complete a certain stage.
Only use as much as needed to get you through the level. Your problem is likely the debuff from being below the average, so it is better to just give a level to your lower level character and call it a day. If you are still damage gated, give the new, lower level character a level. This way, you raise your team level average using the least amount of potions.
Once you have a good stock, you can start taking your team to lvl 2, then 3 - always keeping a good reserve of potions for that moment when you might need to pump your average level (this is usually one or two levels)
This will delay your 2 star awakened characters, but will allow you to go further faster, which means more potions to play with.
This will hurt a bit your live PvP, but only a bit - and in the long run, since you will have more potions thanks to going further faster, it will pay off even on that mode.
You may face problems in Rite of Passage due to this, but quite frankly, that mode is all about juggling and keeping the enemy juggled with all 3 challenges active, and then stopping them with a striker so you can finish recovering your skill to restart the juggle-a-thon. Having more damage or defense wont matter, you will still die in a second or jugglelock the enemy. But if you are struggling, just lower the challenges. Just having your roll can already be a life saver. Here's a tip for that mode: use stun strikers or strikers that lower cooldown by 1 second or more, as well as good jugglers or characters with self resetting skills.

a) Awakening priority: First of all, forget about buidling the perfect team if you are not a Whale. You gotta learn to work with what you have now with this whole Awakening thing.
Take a good look at your memory list, and see what you have. Any FES or Collab with a memory should be on your priority list for upgrading and using on your team.
Next, check if you have memories for any of the AS hard hitters (Pretty Yashiro, Wonderland gang, Summer Kula, K etc etc), and focus on them as well.
If you still lack choices, look at your gold pool for available characters. Barring that, some silver ones can be used (Xmas Choi is pretty much a gold border in disguise, as is Yuri 98 if properly used).
If you have been doing your daillies, you should have at least 2 memories for each of the Epic Quest free characters on standby, so you can work with that. You should also have Kofi's memory, and unless you got really unlucky, Thug Cena's memory. That's already a start, if you lack absolutely anything.
Initially, you need to focus on just building a good team of each color, consisting of at the very least one good carry, and 2 whatevers with available memories on standby. Since you will need eventually 45 characters in the later levels, your efforts on these guys will hardly go to waste.
Keep your capsules for the really good characters, dont waste them on filler gold or silver borders. I generally give them to FES, good collab or top performing AS.

b) Leadership: The best leaderships are either those with a 40% or better damage increase and a 20% charge rate increase or a 60% attack increase. Barring that, just look for more damage and/or more charge rate.
Some good leadership examples are Orochi Iori, Paul, Thug Cena (top tier), Baseball Shermie, Wonderland Yuri etc.

6-) SOME CHARACTER SUGGESTION PER COLOR (the ones w/ an \ are the ones I used)*

a) GREEN TEAM: a lot of good options to choose for, with plenty of welfare ones.
- *Nakoruru: absolute beast! Good green leader, high DoT crit based damage (use a crit set on her). Make sure to make the enemy bleed and take some damage while bleeding before switching out. Can be used to brute force while having penalties;
- Ash: best green leader. Use a def to attack set. Pairs incredibly well with Nakoruru and Goenitz! Give him a Samsho bleed card for better damage. His lack of SA hurts a bit;
- *Wonderland Vanessa: very fast attacks with good damage, amazing and safe awakening combo cycle. Also a good green leader.
- *Paul: very high damage concentrated on few and quick attacks, good herding skills. Good leader if you use 3 green attack characters. Prioritize other collabs for awakening unless your green team is lacking like mine was;
- Goenitz: very fast, very high damage, safe, DoT. Pairs very well with Nakoruru and Ash. Dont have him but he is probably one of the top picks. Give him the bleed option card (the one with the Elephant, For Victory).
- *Orochi Shermie: Started using her at lvl 78 in this mode, and she was already good. Has SA, 2 DoTs, can stun a lot (good to stop SA enemies). Good choice. Needs a little bit of aiming for her skill 2 in the awakening combo.
- Eiji: Good bleed damage and SA. However, he is bad at herding enemies, and his attacks are kinda slow. Can be Awakened for free from Championship coins, which is why he is here. I honestly did not like him very much for this game mode, but he is very acessible.
- Kofi: a great character with a free memory from the event, meaning he is affordable.
- Classic Jin: I wouldnt waste an invitation on him, but if you absolutely need him, he isnt bad. SA, stuns in the awakening combo, 3 PG special, starts with 30% special and a huge 40% attack increase when below 50% HP.
- False Conspiracy Yashiro: free (memories included), hits kinda hard, increased PG rate, DoT on crit from core and each skill has an added effect on crit. Use a crit set on him. Just lacks SA.
- Summer K': Great green leader, and does good damage. Has burn DoT and burn crit explosion.
- Some common gold suggestions: Mature 96, Andy 98, Kensou 99, Yuri 95,

b) BLUE TEAM: a cursed color. Few choices on the FES levels, and they arent even that good.
- *T7 Jin: good blue leader, high damage with a def to attack set and Yellow Ling as a striker, great herding skills and safe play.
- *Mukai: good damage, skills cover a lot of ground, petrify passive can save you some time if you screw up. Has wonky hitbox, so sometimes you might miss if you are too close to an enemy. Also, his awakening combo requires aiming. Can be used as a leader, I guess.
- *Orochi Leona: good damage and speed with SA, and very low cooldowns. Her skill 2 allows you to hit with your normals while you hit with the skill, making Xzibit proud.
- *Original Zero: Reset skill, good damage and PG gain, great at hitting enemies a bit spread but close, long specials. This is your best bet for blue.
- *Summer Kula: pretty good damage and a great blue leader, but awful durability and no SA / HA hurts her a bit, and her awakening combo may be unsafe in some cases. Still very useable, just avoid enemies that activated or are about to activate SA like the plague.
- The People's Champion The Rock: SA, bleed, 21% increase of skill damage upon 3 basic attacks (7% for each). Not bad at all.
- False Order Saisyu: Free character, free memories, deals a lot of burn damage, has power charge increase. Given these circunstances and the terrible choices in the blue color, he isnt a terrible pick.
- Festival Athena: she is free, as are her memories (you should have one by now). That's her good point.
- Sentai Ranger Clark: he is free, with free memories, but he is actually good and has a 3 PG card. Has HA, which is important, but on a stationary skill, so not as good as advancing ones. Still good for corner punish. Not sure if his awakening combo is good since mine is unawakened, but it doesnt feel like his skills combo well after each other.
- Some common gold / silver suggestions: Xmas Choi, Whip 99, Leona 96, Kyo 95, Yuri 98, Athena 96

c) RED TEAM: huge amount of choices on all levels.
- *Haohmaru: an absolute beast at extending time and surviving. Use his 3 PG once all your skills are on cooldown as a skill reset to maximize the damage;
- *Geese XIV: A damage monster (use crit set). He is a good leader for the team;
- Omega Rugal: his skill 3 + skill 2 combo is 100% safe, highly damaging and builds a lot of meter, can reset skill, skill 2 has good travel distance for enemy grouping
- *The Rock: high damage, skills with AoE and a long 3 PG special, good grouping skills and his DoTs bypass the penalties.
- *Lady Big: hits pretty hard with def to attack sets, has a long reaching HA with combo break, 2 quick skills, DoT with damage enhancement. She dissapointed me a bit with her lackluster awakening rotation (too much launching, too much time spent on air). She might work better as mob cleanup. Also, her damage is a bit lackluster compared to others (she is lvl 14, yet The Rock at lvl 4 seems to be doing a lot more damage than her)
- Clone Zero: Free FES with free memories. Need I say more?
- Clone Loli Zero: long specials, reset skill.
- Nests Kyo: I dont have him, but his damage has always been off the charts. Should still apply here.
- Wonderland Iori: access to new 3 PG FES card, bleed DoT.
- Underworld Yamazaki: Free (character and memory), poison DoT, increased PG gain, 3 PG special. Mostly here because he is free.
- Sentai Ralf: better than Clark, his HA is an advancing move. 3 PG, increased PG gain, free everything. Has a very good core with decreased tag cooldown by 2 seconds + obtains 14% PG when tagging in. Very good for this game mode!
- Some common gold / silver suggestions: Mai 95, Envy Mary, K 99, Vanessa 00, Krauser 96, King 94

- Igniz: Possibly the highest damage character in the game.
- *Heihachi: Insane damage (use crit set + Chill card + Bao option card), 2 launch skills (one AoE), long combo, 3 PG special. Decent purple leader.
- *Lady Yashiro: Female Heihachi (use crit set + Chill card + Bao option card) with more safety net from quicker attacks and stuns, also does great damage. Great purple leader. You may wish to avoid skill 2 in the awakening combo.
- *Genjuro: Skill 3 is great at grouping up enemies, or as a set up for the next character (example: use this, change to Heihachi and use his skill 3 at the end of Genjuro's attack). Good and safe damage + 3 PG long special and passive PG regen from free Ukyo.
- Rimururu: Good damage with a def to attack set and good PG gain rate. Long 5 PG special. Decent purple leader.
- Halloween Kula: Great purple leader for crit reliant characters like Heihachi and Lady Yashiro or Chill card users. Can use Chill card to full potential. Lacking a bit in damage, but can be used.
- *Baseball Vanessa: high damage, fast attacks, combo breaker, stun. Her Awakening combo is deadly due to her speed, ability to cancel skills into each other and stun, and is 100% safe;
- Nameless: very fast skills for his Awakening combo. Very long 3 PG. Builds PG fast. You waited so much for him, so you might as well use him.
- John Cena: Can increase his attack with a % of his defense, HA that can be used while attacked (great if you are cought in the crossfire), decreases target defense, 3 PG. You can experiment with a Kaya set on him, it might pay off considering the def to attack boost he natively has.
- Wonderland Athena: access to 6 star special card (6 star option card is bad), great PG gain, 3 PG specials and can be used as a good mixed leader if you want.
- Orochi: you got him for free, might as well use him.
- Some common gold / silver suggestions: Iori 98, Mai 98, Ryo 96, Kyo 96, Kyo 98, Greed Rugal

- *Pretty Zero: Amazing damage, self reseting skill, long specials, good safety net from core, amazing awakening combo with fast attacks, SA and petrification (100% safe). She is my favorite hard hitter for any game mode.
- *Orochi Iori: Excellent leadership, great damage, great PG gain, 5 PG special can do hilarious damage on occasion
- *Charlotte: another female Heihachi, but with blood damage (use crit set). Insane damage! Long 5 PG special.
- Lady Chang: berserker loli hits hard, can group up enemies with her skill travel distance and is safe to use thanks to SA and stun. Use def to attack set.
- Kazuya: hits fast, hits hard, juggles forever, DoT, good grouping skills, 3 PG. Only lacks SA, but not important.
- *Orochi Chris: Good yellow leader for Charlotte. Use him with a crit set + crit option card and either Nakoruru or Orochi as a striker. Good damage in that setup.
- Terry 03: Big damage, good grouping skills, access to 6 star cards for status boost, 3 PG special with big damage buff.
- *Thuganomics John Cena: while not exactly a great unit due to wonky skills for enemy grouping (especially skill 3), his leadership skill is superb, making him a worthy addition, especially if you got his Memory during the event (you could get up to 3, I think. I managed to get 2).
- Ling Xiaoyu: excellent leadership skill. Buffs attack upon special hit (good for awakening combo afterwards) and when below 50% HP. SA and stun in her kit.
- Seth Rollins: this man is a beast in live PvP, just so you know. As for this game mode, he has SA, attack buff on skill, damage reflect and can guard break on the rare occasions this is sort of neeed.
- Ukyo: he really isnt that bad, it's just hard to compare him with the rest of the Samsho crew.
- King 97: She has a core that gives you 100% crit rate if you have Power 5 or more. Imagine you have that, and then you hit awakening... if this works and every hit in the awakening combo is a crit, she might be a hidden gem with the proper card loadout. I haven't tested, so let me know.
- Wrath Chizuru: 100% free, free memories, and useful on Time Attack. Very wonky skills, though, so check if you can bear to use them.
- Some common gold / silver suggestions: Terry 96, May Lee 01, Athena 94, Benimaru 99, Chizuru 96

Other players probably drilled in your head by now that cooldown is king, and they are kinda right for PvP game modes, but in a post-Awakening world, the fact that you get 10 seconds of uninterrupted skill usage (with a special shot before and one after to boot) changes this, making it desireable to pile up as much damage as humanly possible.
So, you need the highest damage sets and cards you have, meaning, more or less in order:
- Noah set or Kaya set (depending if its a Defense character or not)
- Nests set or Mr Big set (latter one for defense characters)
- Halloween set (IF its a full strike character, otherwise forget it unless you only have Favorite Things)
- Tekken set (shoots up to first place for high crit and crit based characters)
- Wonderland set (shoots up to second place for crit based characters)
- Summer set (for defense characters, and this is right after Mr Big set)
- Favorite Things
As for option cards, use your highest damaging combinations that allows you to fully unload a character's skills, switch, do the same and have them off the cooldown once you go back to the first guy.
I started using only damage enhancing cards, no cooldown ones (or of the mentioned CD reduction cards only) after a while. With proper character rotation, cooldown wont matter, and if it does, you can get by with either 1 or 2 of the cards I mentioned that wont sacrifice damage.
Other good option cards to look out for are:
- Chill card: any character with exploding crit mechanics or that deals extra damage on a crit from a core should use one;
- Steins card: an 8% increase to attack on 1 card is pretty damn good, female characters only;
- Leona FES option card: 5 % attack buff + stat increase of a FES card. A very solid choice for everyone;
- Bao option card or Victory option card: they buff poison, bleed, shock and chill damage, while providing some pretty huge attack buffs;
- Charlotte option card: pairs super well with a Chill card on a character that has exploding crit mechanics, particularly for fire damage due to no good option card boosting that;
- What The Rock is cooking: 5% attack buff + 1.2 less cooldown and a bit of damage reflect. Works well enough, and is a good alternative if you just need a bit of CD reduction for some reason;
- Ryo FES option card: 4% attack buff + 10% crit damage with FES level stats buff is nothing to scoff at.
- Iori FES card: Increases active skill damage by 4% while decreasing cooldown by 1.2 seconds. A better alternative to What The Rock is Cooking if you need a bit of cooldown reduction (use one of this paired with What The Rock card if you need more CD reduction for whatever reason).
- Kingdom of Queen: 4% attack bonus, +1.5% PG gain and +10% attack or defense upon attack to balance characters. Solid choice for balance, amazing choice for John Cena since his attack gets buffed either way.
- Samsho bleed card: After finding out how much more damage DoT does here, I recommend this card and a Chil option card on characters with low crit and no DoT damage if at penalty range and they are being used only for herding. This wont do miracles, but will help. Its also good on characters that do extra damage on bleeding enemies, like Ash, Nakoruru etc.
- Bloody Halloween: 5% attack, 5% attack speed and increases PG gain for balance upon a skill hit.
- Close sisters: not as good as all of the above. 3.5% skill damage increase, 5.2% crit damage increase.
- Tekken option card: 4% attack + 4% crit (this one only while above 50% HP). You could pair this with a Chill card on a crit exploding mechanic character if you are confident you wont get hit.
- Unreal Peace or Strategic Retreat: only use if you lack all of the above, or really need to fix your full damage cycle.
Try to use 2 of those damage enhancing cards. Ideally, I would recommend 1 FES Leona card + 1 FES Ryo or 1 FES Iori card. That gets you the equivalent of having a third option card as far as buff goes, while still raising your attack by more or less 9%.
If you notice problems with your skill cooldown after a full tag cycle (after you return to your first character, his skills are still on cooldown), adjust properly so they are ready, perhaps using a What The Rock is Cooking card or FES Iori card, or both at the same time. If this is still not enough, change one of them for a 1.9 seconds CD card.

This game mode is very repetitive, to be frank. There are basically 3 enemies you have to be careful with:
a) Those Venom-like characters: their biggest problem is how quick they attack. You may very well eat a combo right after they spawn by misjudging their startup animation. They also jump around a lot and have a long lasting tentacle attack that can only be tackled with SA, HA or projectiles, otherwise wasting your time.
You gotta herd them quickly before they initiate their attack, keeing them combo'ed until they trigger their SA. Then, either switch out to someone that can deal with that (SA, HA, or use a stun / SA striker) or use a special. Barring that, you can only retreat until SA is gone.
If they spread out, use advancing SA / HA moves to herd them towards a single side of the screen. Keep part of them combo'ed, and the straggler will approach you from behind eventually. Roll behind him and do your SA / HA and everyone will be herded in place. Alternatively, continue hitting one of them until you have enough PG to shoot a enemy grouping special.
b) Those bloody robots: the robots are a nightmare. As soon as they drop, they spread out if you dont immediatelly engage, so do your best to do that with an advancing move, launcher or something that throws them on the corner of the screen. They will get SA on wake up, so you need a character ready with a special, SA (even from striker), HA etc. If they shoot you, you will waste a tremendous amount of time, so make them your engagement priority. Dont be afraid to use specials on them.
c) That Kabuki-looking Samurai: I like to call him Athena's mute brother. As soon as he spawns, he starts doing a sword slash that makes him impossible to hit, so hit him before that, and keep him juggled. As soon as he drops, he will get SA, and will initiate his special moves, dissappearing from the screen and going crazy like Athena for a while, wasting a ton of time.
Use your strong special to stop him from that behavior if you miss the initial hit, or if you drop the combo and he gets SA.
d) Guy with a white coat and a respirator: there is also this guy (looks more like a mutant). He isn't hard to deal with, just make sure you dont get grabbed by him, as that is a waste of time. Just barrage him with SA / HA or a special.
e) Bosses: the strategy is the same as always - dump as much damage possible in the least amount of time. Use special first, then cycle your skills, then awaken, then combo until its over, then special again. Switch, rinse and repeat. Once everyone has awakening on cooldown, stall by using long specials, and do more awakening combos.

Like I said, get your 3 character teams for each color planned. I suggest you register them on a slot on your team window, one for each color, as you will use them daily.
Awaken them to lvl 1 with a single one of their memory. If you are going to craft dimensional invitations, be careful to not waste good memories. Remember you will eventually need 45 characters to progress on the Hell dungeon.
Also, remember that, from character lvl 10 onwards, you will need a character specific memory / invitation + 2 generic color memories that you craft by combining 5 memories of a lower grade (example: 5 red silver memories are combined into a single red GOLD generic memory - similarly, 5 red gold memories are turned into a single FES red generic memory). Combining gold memories sometimes gives you character specific memories, but dont combine them exclusively for this since it is rare. Just combine stuff as you need them to further awaken your characters, never know when you might need those memories).
You can progress with no awakened characters until Stage 2-5, I think. There, you will hit your first wall. You may be able to breach it with a lot of DoT, but the boss will damage gate you.

10-) BOSS COMPLETIONS: may they serve you as inspiration and as a base of comparison (team level, cards used etc).
TIER 1: did not record...
TIER 7: did not record...
TIER 9: (failure) (success)
TIER 10:
TIER 11: did not record...
TIER 12:

Ideally, I would love to give you minimum level requirements for all Tiers, but I cant repeat them, and I only found out about the team debuff much, much later. So I will try to do that from the tier I am onwards, if possible at all, and will update it here if I do so.
If you decide to check out my previous guide made on the Netmarble forums, please, be advised there are is information there that is not up to date and should not be followed. I will try and change it tomorrow:
submitted by Fenrir007 to KOFALLSTAR [link] [comments]

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