How I Prepare For Events

When I started playing FFTCG I would spend countless hours on OCTGN practicing against anyone that would play me. If I got beaten down hard I would go back for more, as much as they’d let me. Getting beaten by players more skilled than you and by decks you don’t know is still the best way to improve, in my opinion, especially in a short period of time, but it does take a certain mentality and approach going in.

Recently, Chris Mattiske and I spoke a bit about how different OCTGN games feel and present themselves compared to cardboard, so I feel it’s important to keep in mind that OCTGN isn’t a replacement for the actual card game. OCTGN is a useful tool, offering convenience, and is generally the only way to play people from other regions. However, if you rely solely on it, you could be in for a rude awakening when you show up for locals or other events and feel like you suddenly don’t know how to play.

Two and a half years later I don’t need to play on OCTGN much anymore, and tend not to because I can burn out pretty fast. Spending as much time as I did when I was starting out helped me develop a solid grasp of the fundamentals, which isn’t really something you can lose.  During tournament preparation, playing random OCTGN games isn’t particularly helpful after a certain point, and also not particularly enjoyable, barring games with friends when you’ve spent too much time playing on OCTGN in the past.

When I’m preparing for a tournament, I spend most of my time doing a few things:

I talk a lot of theory with the other members of Team Flat Earth. We throw deck ideas around to see what sticks, test different things and talk about what does/didn’t/might work.

I go to locals once or twice a week trying said lists and other interesting decks. When leading up to important events, a few of the more competitive among us will get together as regularly as we can with a bunch of decks and just practice different lists, to get a feel for matchups and have a good time quickly running through games, talking through lines of play and rewinding as we make mistakes. This is where most of my prep is done for tournaments.

When I’m feeling solid on a list I like and I’m almost ready to take it as-is, I’ll often pester Jared so we can ram into each other on OCTGN to really push each other. We both end up hating the decks we have because we seem to be on a fairly similar skill level and have a tendency to push each other. We don’t play regularly enough to know how our play patterns have changed over the past month or two and we often discover that we each will play the same list quite differently.

Even if we don’t fully realize it at the time, losing in these games isn’t a bad thing and I find it really good to reflect on these games because they can highlight some glaring mistakes. It does a good job of mimicking the kind of games I might find at top tables or top cut. Remember what I said about losing to someone as much as they let you? Yeah, that’s how I met Jared.

And finally, there’s a lot of weird looking and fun decklists online that put up results that are worth trying. Netdecking and organising cards in paper is a very time consuming process, but you can nab these lists for OCTGN and be playing within 5 minutes. This does a great job of highlighting small things you might have overlooked just glancing at a list, such as obscure search lines, and you can decide if it’s worth putting the time into a deck or not quickly and effortlessly.

During The Tournament 

Everything I mention below should be considered in addition to all of the smart health related stuff Midgar Senpai recently covered in his article on tournament preparation, which you probably don’t always do enough of because you’re stressing out about things like deck choices, tech slots, travel, whether you got enough practice or not, the heat death of the universe or that dumb thing you said to your crush a decade ago which still haunts you.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to do whatever it takes for you to relax and make sure you get enough sleep. This is going to be different for everyone, and I’m starting to figure out what that is for me around these high pressure tournaments. Of all the healthy things we need to do before putting our brain thing through a gauntlet of card games and nerves, making sure your thinky muscle gets the rest it deserves is the most important.

I would also recommend not rushing off to your place after day 1 of the event to practice, not only is this really mentally fatiguing, you’re better off spending the time in good company with the awesome people you don’t get to see often enough, or sometimes never outside of these events. Because only one person in the room gets to win, if you’re not making the most of the opportunity to have a good time, you’re missing out. These massive weekends make up some of the best times I’ve ever had, with some of the greatest people I know and I wouldn’t trade it for a trophy.

Playing to Your Strengths

As much as I’d like to be, I’m not an innovative deck builder, and that’s ok. I can play fairly consistently well, I can feel out a meta, identify and adjust existing decks to it, or improve on loose concepts. That’s what I’m good at and like to do, so that’s what I tend to do, and it works out well for me. Ain’t no shame in it.

FFTCG is also a game with a lot of nuance and player preference even at high levels. As an example, it’s taken a long time, but I’ve just come to accept that Earth/Wind isn’t an archetype for me, or one that I’m particularly good at, no matter the iteration or format. I barely touched Dadaluma and I like to take my time to think in competition, but on lists like these that’s a dangerous game with the clock.

One of the things I struggle with the most in these big tournament settings is being able to take 5 to gather my thoughts and catch my breath. If I’ve ever come across as rude between rounds during a tournament, trying to find a moment between games, I don’t mean anything by it. Truthfully I’m just an introverted person, and if I could, I’d spend most of the day with headphones in blasting music if it wasn’t against the rules. A little selfish? Probably. But no one’s perfect. It just isn’t personal, and I’m sorry if it comes across that way.

Rikku Ban and Opus 9.5

I’m really grateful for this along with Dadaluma at the start of the set, even if it does give way to a new age of degeneracy we at least haven’t arrived there just yet. Both cards created a situation where “your deck must be this tall to compete” and possibilities were much more limited. Rikku proved to be oppressive enough that I just didn’t want to play or brew much of anything in Opus 9 at all.

Something I don’t normally do is approach players outside of TFE about the meta and deck lists. I’m not really sure why I haven’t before, but being my last shot for the year after coming close in the previous I wanted to be sure we weren’t falling into an insular bubble and taking something totally off base. If there’s two players I know that can give me the broad strokes on their respective metas, and tell me if I’m doing something wildly wrong, it’s Alex Hancox and Matthew Okimoto. I had the chance to pick their brains at Worlds last year and they were both very open, genuine, and helpful, especially when talking about different aspects of FFTCG.

Food For Thought

Those last 5 slots in your deck don’t matter as much as you think they do, so stop torturing yourself, as long as they’re decent cards you’ll be fine.

I would really like to record and analyse my own games, as it seems like the best way for me to improve moving forward. After rewatching my streamed games in the Majors this year (and I mean no disrespect to my opponents), there’s a lot I could have done better and that wouldn’t be obvious without having the footage to watch in review. I’m not sure in what capacity that is yet but it’s something to think about. Being fair to myself, a game on stream, in potentially the last game before qualifying for Worlds in the last event for the year, is a wholly unique game of cards and there’s a lot going on around you aside from just the mental pressure.

I get the impression Mithril feels similarly about our games too, he gave me a massive run for my money and definitely got in my head in these games by completely throwing out the script and playing Ice/Fire much differently than I was expecting; he attempted to outlast my deck, and he damn near did it too, playing to his outs. He held off a field of 7 forwards with a single 3k Terra on my second-to-last turn. As for the mirror, I was on the play and luckier that day. Mithril is a fantastic player and I have the utmost respect for how well he played, given how stacked the odds were in my favor in these games. Despite taking the finals in a 2-0, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mithril would have taken the 3rd game with his Wind/Water hatebears list, and that wasn’t lost on me at the time either.

Decks I Played at the Event

Fire/Ice Category 6

In my mind, this was probably the deck to beat leading up to the tournament. It can beat anything on a turn 2 Locke open, hell, even turn 1 Locke Sage if you’re desperate, but man it can really just lose to itself sometimes when your hand is full of 4CP reactive forwards that don’t do anything unless you’re already on pressure.

I’ve been playing it for a long time now, and it was always going to be a fall back comfort pick. Nael really elevated the deck this set. Along with Terra, allowing you to Glasya for 9k, is a massive boon, and it’s on a card that has no right to have EX Burst; this is definitely an extra leg the deck didn’t need. I don’t think there’s much to talk about here, other than what’s already known. This list is a bit of a throwback to Ballarat State Champs at the start of the competitive season, when the list first got it’s legs and for some strange reason Chris Mattiske and I were the only ones running it at all (I opted out of Fusoya (2-146H) last minute and paid for it a little).

As for the tech choices, Red Mage helps with bridging turns with a proactive, low-commitment play while also keeping up hand pressure, and giving your Fusoya, Cloud, and Lasswell more reach. They’re in here most particularly for the water matchup (which is among the more uncomfortable ones). Another tech I always come back to is a single copy of Cid Aulstyne, especially in events where lists are shared before top cut, having the single copy means your opponents are stuck between a rock and a hard place between going empty handed and respecting the potential Cid Aulsyne. One of the best ways to play around Ice/Fire is to dump your hand if you know there isn’t a punish for it.

Light and Dark is something I would definitely shy away from normally in a list that’s trying to turn 2 Locke and stay on pressure, but I’m confident enough on the list now that I can take a hit to my high roll peak and widen my value game with Fusoya. It really performs in the mirror match, which I was expecting a lot of. In hindsight, despite not playing against any Wind, a 1-of 10k Bahamut would have been a really nice toolbox for Aerith.

I also played this for the swiss portion, dropping a game to Jaesn Black on Mono Ice (10k is a little too big for Terra+Glasya) and it’s the only game I dropped with it all weekend. That was a great way to wake me up in the 2nd round of Day 1!

Agriasoya

(Based on Mumu’s list from Lightning Crystal Cup in Japan)

Something that I pretty quickly identified in the set was the potential of Hurdy (9-030H) and Illua (5-099H), in addition to the combination of Fusoya (9-094L) with Rinoa (6-041L). However as I’ve already pointed out, I’m not much of an innovator, so I spent a lot of time chasing my tail on this one waiting for someone to do better.

I really don’t think this is the best version of these interactions we’ve yet to see, but it’s certainly the strongest we’ve seen thus far. Even if most of the players in attendance knew about the deck and how it generally plays, I was confident, going into competition, that the initial interpretation of it being an Agrias deck is very misleading to how the games play out, and that people might fall into the trap of playing it like a more traditional Agrias list. I still maintain that I never want to turn 1 Agrias, despite doing it in top cut twice. It’s always been among my worst games with the list and something I avoid doing if I can.

Now that we know what the deck isn’t, we can talk about what the deck is. It’s a greedy, pseudo-OTK deck, that is trying to build an insurmountable advantage and aim to strike lethal by playing 3-5 forwards on what is likely a seemingly unthreatening board of some garbage like Leila and Rinoa, not unlike Chris’ Vicekings (which is also often misleading in how people play the various versions of the list).

The major difference here is you have Sheol when there is a minimal amount of things that can interact with your turn while getting their blockers out of the way with the likes of Cloud of Darkness, Kain, and Squall, allowing you to swing out freely for 5+ damage. Most decks are losing value and hand size over time to your advantage and density of high value cards in your deck. I’ve yet to deck out with the list, but damn if Mithril didn’t try.

Don’t get me wrong, the deck can certainly open Agrias and sometimes has to, in the case of putting pressure on greedy lists that can handle it well normally, but it’s still my least favourite way to play the deck. It can also mimic its water/lightning counterpart decently, but this is the most successful direction I’ve found with this list, and it is very often overlooked how threatening your useless forwards are.

As for the tech we ran with, in testing it’s very easy to build a list to target this one. The likes of Zidane (6-044L) and Hecatoncheir (1-117R) target you on two fronts by attacking the forwards that are always in your hand and ruining your colours fixed on field. One of the other ways decks try to get around you using Fusoya on their forwards is by just not playing anything you can target, until some kind of insurance like Y’shtola is down first.

That’s where the Scale Toad comes in. It’s generally just great against other greedy lists by forcing them to play targets for you to get value on with your Fusoya earlier than they want. Ultimately it’s much harder for your greedy opponents to hold answers for what you’re trying to accomplish. There was a very noticeable matchup improvement vs decks dedicated to countering this list with just a single Scale Toad. Limiting your opponents options and forcing them to play gives you a full hand, and free reign to do basically whatever you want.

If Fire/Ice was to be my 1st deck, I wanted Vayne there, and I needed to find a replacement which fills a similar role. This pretty quickly lead to Squall (9-027H) who just makes so much sense here. Dulling 2 (or 3 if you have Snow) on attack when you Sheol simplifies things so much, and fits in better on the turns we’re trying to swing out than Vayne does. He also comes down at 3 CP with Rinoa fielded (so long as you remember, anyway).

Truthfully Agrias is probably the card I like the least in the list, Porom and Sephiroth are also somewhat underwhelming, but I think they serve their purpose reasonably well in certain matchups, at least for now. Some other differences from the original list are a 1 of Estinien, Exdeath, and the Poroms for more flexibility and help with Y’shtola. There’s a few other minor changes like increasing the Snow count to 2 etc. I definitely missed having a 3rd Kain and Cloud of Darkness throughout the tournament.

You can catch the recording of the finals vs Mithril here

The Elephant in the Room: Competitive Title Format

There’s a correct title to take and there’s a lot of red herrings in it. I always said I was going to just take Type-0, to have 2 coin flips vs cadets and 2 vs not-cadets for a clean 3-1, and that’s exactly what happened, but not everyone in the room had the same success. Might have been a 4-0 if it wasn’t for hitting a Rem (3-072R) on EX, but hey that’s card games. It’s not like I didn’t have my own share of luck in the tournament.

A huge thanks to Jared Wallace for keeping his finger on the pulse for Title format. He schooled me very quickly with his degenerate “oops all removal” Type-0 list, which I ran with testing different matchups locally. We originally didn’t start with Queen (3-151S) or Seven (3-057R) in the list, however Rem (7-063C), when you have 2 forwards fielded, quickly turns into resolving Queen for a break with cheap board extensions via King, Eight, and Deuce. Seven squeaked it’s way into the list last minute to comfortably get around Cloud (8-006L) versus Category 7 which wasn’t too relevant for my pairings, but I did get to top deck it like a god versus Richie’s hail mary on stream.

Next to Ace (9-003L), Rem (7-063C) is the 2nd best card in the deck, because it’s 2cp for a 5k and fetches any other card you want. Then the 3rd best card is Ace (3-003R) once the game is established, whose S break is 3 CP to remove anything, and it’s usable even multiple times the turn it’s played.

I don’t think I’d change the list at this point and I’m not too interested in playing competitive Title again any time soon. The only considerations left are a 3rd Arecia (3-097R), 3rd Deuce (9-052C), or a 1-of Queen (3-104C), because Title is heavily removal based and sometimes you need to sneak that last damage situationally but can’t otherwise keep a field to swing with. For what it’s worth, I believe that it’s important to keep as high a Class Zero Cadet count as possible if you’re going to be changing anything; none of your reveals should be whiffing.

Type-0 in Title is a really interesting thought experiment. It’s clearly the best deck in it’s format, and if we look solely at the mirror match, it’s the one matchup I’ve encountered that clearly challenges the “always go first” rule of thumb.

Our goal is to open Ace (3-153S) in to Ace (9-003L), holding the cards we get, then playing 2 more forwards on turn 2 and blowing up the opponent’s Ace (9-003L) for 8k should they have the same, which we can do going first if we draw the absolute nuts. If we play second however, either Ace in hand and a single copy of either Rem (7-063C) or Arecia (3-097R) will get us either a 5k forward or a Backup down in addition to our Aces with frightening reliability, assuming we hard mull for these pieces. I still opted to take first given the choice because I had no idea what Title anyone was on.

You can catch some of my title matches on stream vs not cadets:

Jono playing Mobius Title

Richie playing FF8 Title

Draft

A pile built from 3/5 draft packs. Blessed to scrape by with a 3-1 record when it had no right to.

Sometimes people just get a little too big for their boots and shoot themselves in the foot trying to get ‘em off. Thankfully at least, my left wasn’t trying to hatedraft everyone in their immediate vicinity. I can’t really tell you how to draft any better than what Jeff already does, and he’s already covered things at great length for us here on FFTCG Crystarium!

But I can tell you exactly and precisely what not to do, because the person on my right gave me the opportunity to observe exactly what you shouldn’t do in a draft pod.

Don’t brick half of your pod by drafting 5 colour good stuff for 3 packs as though hate-drafting is a good thing in a pod. You want to send clear signals to your passes so that you can actually get what you want; the more confusing you make the drafting process, the worse everyone’s draft becomes, most of all your own.

Don’t brag to the person that passed you an Ultros on pack 4 that they decided your element for you after you spent 3 packs ruining signals and your own draft when it should’ve been clear halfway through the first pack what you were drafting.

Don’t be arrogant, condescending, or try to prove something no matter who’s at your table. Have the basic human decency to be considerate of the other people that are there which value these events just as much as you.

Don’t go 0-4 in draft, despite getting rerolled into a soft comp mid-draft, then go on to abuse the judge staff, piss off everyone in the room, and rant about the integrity of the event on Facebook.

Some Other Cool Piles of Cardboard We Played That You Too Might Enjoy

A lot of these lists are netdecks, and where credit isn’t explicitly stated, TFE as a whole are generally where it came from. Some are more competitive and refined than others, but they’re all fun decks (except Earth/Wind in my case).

4 Colour Good Stuff

Cid’s list

Okimoto’s Moogle list

My own variant marrying the two together

There’s a lot here to break down and the lists are a lot of fun, but primarily what I liked about these lists is Fusoya and Rinoa, as well as Hurdy and Illua, which led to me choosing the deck I eventually took.

Earth/Wind

Jared’s Terra Variant

A Hatebears list we arrived at to target the Agriasoya list, was working out really well until we added Scale Toad

Alex’s Vaan variant

Another Vaan List I landed on after playing Alex’s with the Agrias matchup in mind

I tried, I really did. I forced myself to play this archetype over and over, and it just isn’t a deck for me. I’ll spend 10 turns doing nothing on the brink of losing, and then suddenly I’ve won. I don’t really know how, and we all hate what transpired. I also dropped a game at every locals I took it to, and that combined with just not enjoying myself was enough to put it aside when looking at decks for competition.

Mono Water

Based on Kakkas list

I don’t like Minwu as a card and I don’t think I ever will, when you combine it with Rosa and Cecil however, and with Ice/fire being the deck to beat, Minwu goes far with a lot of relevant meta considerations where people are inclined to cut answers to Minwu. The deck is great and a lot of us were seeing good results with it locally, but sometimes you don’t draw the pieces in a reasonable order and just kinda lose.

Fusoya

Always will be a favourite of mine since it was one of my first competitive decks. but I wasn’t feeling it this time, it hasn’t gotten enough nice tools lately and the Light backup impacts one of the big strengths of Mono Water right now in Nichol.

Taruhos Ardyn Earth

Great Archetype with some very polarising matchups in the meta; I’m personally not crazy about the Prishe Variant we saw at Crystal Cup Lightning in Japan, but it’s a fantastic core list. Deck has a lot of potential for 2 deck because it can probably always win vs one of the opponent’s decks.

Earth/Fire – Zodiark

Always a fun deck, but it wasn’t stacking up how I liked.

Wind/Water – Tobi’s Zodiark

It can still get there, but not as reliably in the face of decks that rely on Fusoya (9-094L) or Ice/Fire. I didn’t spend much time here, so just run with Tobi’s base list, probably finding room for Magus Sisters.

Mono Wind – Generic Pile

Not much to say here. Following Fire CC it was still one of the decks to beat, Marias and a 2nd Alexander went in for the mirror, dropped Balthier like a dead weight and shifted some numbers around.

Mono Wind – Gachabos (no list sorry, but decks kinda self-explanatory)

I kept joking about just taking it for swiss so I didn’t have to think about that portion and could focus on top cut (day 2 was originally to be 5 rounds swiss constructed to top cut) and someone on chocobos went 4-0 (or was it 3-1?) in the swiss portion. Something to keep in mind if there’s ever events where swiss constructed has different decks than top cut.

Mono Evan

Went through a few versions myself, but I can’t deny the power of Evan. Personally I feel like I just play the cards I’m dealt most of the time and don’t feel like I’m playing the game unless I open Cid Previa. That doesn’t mean the deck should be overlooked, however, because it can high roll just about anything.

Wind/Lightning Vaan Shove

Another fun Vaan pile that’s asking your opponent if they have an answer.

Mono Fire

Fusoya EXstack

Ifrita

Terra gave both of these lists incredible legs. With the addition of Belias, Gaius, and Terra, Mono Fire got a ridiculous mass of +1 EX on good cards across the last couple of sets. But aside from EX Burst, Cloud, and Nael, there isn’t much unfair to get excited about here.

In Closing

It’s been a real challenge and a fantastic experience in growth making it to Worlds again. I’ve learned so much from FFTCG in these last couple of years. I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of different people and I’ve done my share of gushing about that on Facebook already. Without repeating myself ad nauseam, I just want you to know that I appreciate you all.

I went into Worlds 2018 not really knowing what to do, feeling like a lucky pretender. I had a lot of doubts in my head after qualifying last year, my inner monologue was telling me it was a fluke and that I didn’t deserve to be there. Once might have been a mistake, but it’s hard for even my own self-doubt to argue with results. 

I have a great deal of support behind me, we’ve also built amazing teams and a website over this past year which I’m so incredibly proud of and thankful for. I’ll give it all that I can this year and I hope to do you all proud!