Today I, Jared Wallace, known under the player name eureka, am here to bring you an overview on my Masters Yokohama 2019 winning list. I’m gonna give a rundown of the deck including why I decided on each individual card, and afterwards get into the thinking process that led me to making a list like this in the first place. If you’re just looking for a primer on how to play the deck, I’ll include a short FAQ towards the end that addresses questions I tend to get and mistakes that I see when players first pick up the deck.
I ended up deciding to take a Wind/Water Mill strategy different from the popular variations. My priorities with the list were clear to me from the get go: to abuse synergies between demonstrably strong cards, play a ton of removal, and do it faster than other decks can. I’ll get a little into why these were high priorities a little later, for now let’s go down the list and talk about each card.
An excellent addition to the deck that offers previously unavailable recursion, but is not the critical turning point it’s made out to be. Good synergy with Asura and lets you cast more than 3 big Famfrits.
Not nearly as strong as in traditional lists but often a free cantrip that can slow the opponent down substantially and sometimes fix your CP. A common mistake I see is people just running out Paine without thinking about it first; a lot of the time you are better off just holding it because you’re going to Famfrit soon anyways, or because you want their Veritas or other removal to rot in hand longer.
Searches for your missing Yuna or Rikku, Yuna usually being the higher priority.
Takes away things that could possibly disrupt your gameplan like their copies of Zidane, or things you don’t really wanna see like Magus Sisters and Galdes. Sometimes you nab a Backup that screws them.
Almost never played as a 2 CP 9000 Forward and almost always just used for the 5000 wide. Removal is the only reason she remains slotted.
Veritas of the Dark
Great way to deal with early opposing Forwards from Ice (namely Locke and Genesis that can’t be left alone to be Famfrit’d later) and opposing Veritas. Usually when the opposing Veritas’ enter the break zone auto resolves I put my own Veritas in the bin and force a Backup down, which can slow opponents down immensely and give you 2~3 turns of breathing room.
Loops Porom and occasionally generates CP or nabs discarded/broken Rikku or Yuna. Can also get Leyak back as a pseudo-Urianger.
Cuchulainn, the Impure
Was originally Halicarnassus but EX and the ability to nab it back with Porom made it the clear choices. Does almost nothing but sometimes prevents annoying autos like Vanille, Magus Sisters, Galdes, and Veritas.
Combos with Fina and creates CP. Not gonna go deep on this one.
Famfrit, the Darkening Cloud
Mostly a worse Diabolos, sometimes a worse Hecatoncheir. I opted for a second one of these over a second Veritas because I can discard two to play it into opposing Sephiroth when they go for the discard two, which comes up pretty often.
MVP removal Summon. This is often your best card in the deck and usually the best Summon to recycle with Porom. Hitting monsters is super important as well.
Allows you to play on the opponent’s turn more easily. Gotta be careful about not accidentally Famfriting it away. Arguably a staple for dedicated mill variants.
Used to target Edward, opposing Rikkus, and sometimes anthems. I think I used it once in the entire tournament.
Another mulligan on a Water Backup.
Obligatory MVP. Self-explanatory win condition of the deck.
Here to stop Mist Dragon (mostly), Glasya Labolas, Valefor, and Asura.
Pseudo-fourth copy of Zidane. I toyed with a bunch of different Wind Backups in this slot. It’s a pretty free choice, I just landed on this because players will sometimes cut characters to try and make you whiff with it, which is more than fine for us.
Most important wind breakable. I would play five if I could. Helps vs Magus Sisters, Vanille, Ghost, Puma/Galdes loop, Undead Princess, and so on. Definitely the best Backup aside from Yuna and Rikku.
My most controversial Backup choice. He’s obviously great against Archer, but also helps vs Celes and the new Squall, as well as a small assortment of other rogue effects. I toyed with Green Mage, Eiko and a few other Water Backups in this slot, but they were all pretty bad. There is an argument to be made for a second copy of Artemicion given that you will basically never play up to three Water Backups and Yuna is always going to be one, but sometimes you are forced on to three and being unique in the deck is a big advantage. I would not advise dropping this so quickly, and especially not for a different non-breakable.
Makes your Famfrits have busted CP costs and enables Valefor. Just as important as Rikku and usually a higher priority to get out early.
Searches for Paine and by large extension Yuna and Rikku. Usually only a viable line in very slow matchups, but it does come up a pretty good amount of the time. Landed on one copy just to try and smooth out the curve a little bit.
Good EX, sometimes a 3 CP Backup. Wouldn’t want more than one but sometimes just better than Brother, which landed me on one of each.
Now that you’ve been acquainted with the list, let’s dive into talking about how I arrived at a list that has been affectionately referred to as “cancer” and “the end of fun”. As a very brief aside, I don’t think that this deck is particularly fun, good for the game, or in line with Hobby Japan’s design philosophy, I just made a deck that was competitive. Now, let’s get on with it.
Heading into a fresh Opus IX meta the first thing I thought about is what would change, not only from the introduction of new cards but from the removal of Dadaluma from the pool. Perhaps a slightly controversial opinion, I believe that removing Dadaluma from the pool is arguably the more important change here, because it would develop a meta in which decks fight for the board more “fairly”. In other words, Forward removal became a bigger priority.
Additionally, it was pretty clear in my mind that out of the gates the clear winner from the previous meta was Fire/Ice VI decks, which benefited immensely not only from additional VI Backups and a good finisher in Nael but also from losing one of the toughest Forward to push past, Dada. This also reinforced the idea that cards which fight for board would be more popular.
But I didn’t just think these things, when I hopped on to OCTGN the day the set was added it was wholly confirmed. The day one meta was mostly people spamming Ice/X, often with either VI or VIII packages, and people trying to fix Earth/Wind however they can. Earth/Wind was being patched with Barbaricia or dropping those packages in favor of extra Veritas, Phoenixs, or entirely different removal options, and Glasya / Zalera were probably some of the most played cards I saw. There was also a small amount of Wind/Water Yuri leftover from the previous meta and Lenna/Knight/Porom packages filling in for people hoping to abuse it. I myself tried a bit of everything and, predictably, everything felt mediocre outside of Fire/Ice.
Because of how many different forms of removal were popular (ie damage removal with Fire, wide-board removal with Fina/Valefor, dull/freeze with new VIII, direct break with Diabolos, untargeted with Veritas and Famfrit) I pretty quickly arrived at the conclusion that just having Forwards that were untargetable like Gullwings or Zidane L weren’t enough to form a cohesive anti-removal strategy, and narrowed down my decision to trying Ice-based strategies and looking at unconventional options. I was still pretty convinced Earth/Wind was a good framework for building up macro advantages (mostly Star/Sibyl) and was toying around with Rydia and old Urianger frameworks I had visited trying to make something cohesive, and over six or seven games arrived at a first draft that would go on to become the final list.
What a monstrosity, right? The idea was simple at the time and goes back to two of the priorities I mentioned at the beginning of this article: abusing synergies of demonstrably strong cards and playing a ton of removal. It’s very easy to see the Semih/Sibyl XI package and it’s synergy with multi-color, stall, and availability of removal. The first draft had Rydia but it was quickly cut when it was clear that it needed more targets that were good proactively. I made sure to include Veritas, Fina/Valefor, YRP, Zidanes, and so on.
The synergies prioritized in that draft are very clear across the board, and the deck in that variation was reasonably successful, albeit pretty slow and often reliant on the early Sibyl draw (as Earth/Wind so often can be). The deck particularly suffered from having to leave open a Backup slot when the opponent was careful about Shantotto, as that prevented you from casting Diabolos and Famfrit efficiently. I took a break from grinding games to look over and really think about the different parts of the deck to see how I could somehow fix these problems. I realized that given the additional recursion from Porom and Asura that I could probably just squeeze out the extra colors, given that Asura did Urianger’s work and Porom could do Ajido’s, just leaving the blindspot in dealing with resilient threats that Shantotto cleans up neatly like Magus Sisters and Vanille. It also seemed pretty clear to me that those cards probably wouldn’t see a ton of play right out of the gate, as they’re pretty useless in fighting for board and, while resilient, often don’t compete well with Ice (which seemed to be the most popular color) and the higher power lines that would be prevalent early. This is where I made the judgment call that the extra speed from chiseling down to two colors was more important, and that I could patch the blindspot with White Mages (as opposed to filling it with an extra color) and still keep a reasonable advantage. I had slotted a Madeen at the time to try and help fill the “overextension punish” void as well.
Matchups instantly improved across the board as a result of these consistency-based changes. I was able to build up 5 Backups very quickly as possible and mostly draw-pass the rest of the game, removing threats while opponents would often have removal effects that did absolutely nothing against me. It seemed pretty clear to me at that point that this was going to be a strong archetype and I didn’t need to make sweeping changes anymore, and settled into developing tech. Some of the first things I considered would be possible “accidental soft counters” to the strategy; this list of fears mostly comprised of things like Archer for Rikku, Hecatoncheir to destroy Backups, Y’shtola for Summon negation, heavy discard like Sephrioth, and problems decking myself in a mirror. I dedicated the Backup lineup to fixing these issues, my own Archer for opposing Rikkus and Edwards, Summoner for Mist Dragon negating Diabolos, Yaag Rosch for opponent Backup destruction and freeze, White Mages for general anti-meta, minimal draw EX with just one Echo to avoid decking myself too much, double Alexander for stacking on Sephiroth’s effect, and just the two Backups that cost more than three to combat Hecatoncheir.
The deck basically settled down at this point, and I made little to no changes in the week before the tournament, aside from debating whether to play Madeen, a second Alexander, or a second Veritas. In the end I went for Alexander to help combat Sephiroth better. This decision was compounded with an old idea that I learned from Novel (a Japanese player who has since joined the dev team) that sacrificing some deck power for extra consistency is important if your deck is already sufficiently powerful for the tournament.
The end product that you see is a deck that is powerful because no single card or counter-strategy cuts off your play or win condition. Summon negation has tech accounted for it, and usually isn’t easily recycled. Shutting down the Porom recycle is slow, costly and usually doesn’t hurt us very bad. Yuna 5 is often easily ignored / played past and is at risk of eating an Alexander, not to mention how much faster we are than Yuna 5 decks. Discard can be strong, but the deck is naturally good at playing responsively which can negate some of discard’s effectiveness. Abandoning common strategy and rushing leaves you at risk for Fina and/or Fina/Valefor combos, and so on.
I’m not gonna go into a ton of detail here because basically each round is a deckout win, and took a good chunk of time, most of which is them playing Forwards and me passing and casting Diabolos/Alexander/Famfrits. You can check out my list and other topping lists at the official Column.
Round 1 – Kakka (Earth/Lightning) Win
I spent most of the time pre-event chilling with Kakka and building his deck with him before the event, and we both knew each other’s list going in, though he wasn’t intimate with mine. He scooped about 25 cards in knowing there was no way to win and told me to win the tournament.
Round 2 – Mikuchorin (Earth/Wind Rydia) Win
I went second and opened two Wind Backups and a Yuna with no water to pitch, then got Zidane’d and lost the Yuna. I built another Wind Backup, took a damage and countered with my own Zidane to take a Sibyl and abuse her mostly slow start, then drew a tutor Paine and was able to place Yuna, and the game was mostly over from there. Her Rydias had no Raiden / Bahamut targets for the rest of the game and Earth/Wind is usually an easy deckout.
Round 3 – Chougyouji (Fire splash Earth/Dark) Win
I went first and mulliganed a no Backup hand for Artemicion, Valefor, Valefor, Veritas, Diabolos, and Fina off the top. I discarded a Valefor and passed, he played Chaos and a Meeth. I managed to draw a Famfrit (along another Fina) and plopped down the Artemicion sending back the entire hand and drawing no Wind backups but a Summoner and another Water card. I put it down and basically played on the back foot the entire game, but Fire has such an abysmal matchup here that I still crushed, taking three damage the entire game.
Round 4 – Nakanosakaue (Fire/Ice VI) Win
I went first and opened Rikku and a Water Backup, he started Setzer pitching a Ghost and pass. I played another Backup and threw it back to him, and he missed on a Fire backup the next turn so no turn 2 Locke. I took the most damage all tournament that game (mostly from Ghost, I removed one but never found the opportunity to White Mage the second) but controlled the tempo the entire game and was able to run him out of Forwards while still at 5 damage.
Round 5 – aaaa (Mono Water) Win
He obviously had no idea I was playing deckout at the time and took his sweet time setting up Backups thinking he had time. I matched his pace and by the time he realized I wasn’t playing Forwards it was way too late. I ended up building up to triple Valefor on his turn to clear a Cagnazzo, Tidus, and Knight and milling him down to 7, which must have been pretty traumatic because he asked me how many Valefors I had cast in a turn later in top cut.
Round 6 – Hirefire (Mono Lightning) Loss
I played awfully this game knowing that I was guaranteed top. I broke a lot of my own rules and just kind of let things fly, and got wiped out by dull and haste effects after having a good start on Backups. It was a pretty embarassing game and by far my worst showing at the event.
–-2nd at End of Swiss Rounds–
Quarterfinals – aaaa (Mono Water) Win
This time around he took a more aggressive approach, playing out a Knight turn one (after losing the dice roll). I took a couple of early damage and cleaned them up with a 5 cost Famfrit on turn 3. It was even easier than the last game we played.
Semifinals – I Love Moogles (Earth/Wind/Ice Yuna Mill) Win
This is probably the easiest matchup I’ve ever had. The opposing mill deck has next to no speed, has very little reactivation (just Oracle, Valefor, Paine, and Fina) and their removal does next to nothing to you. I never even had to use White Mage active for the Light Yuna recursion, I just kept killing it whenever it got played. I milled him out with around 15 cards left in deck.
Finals – Cid (Earth Rydia splash Fire/Lightning/Ice) Win Loss Win
Finals is played in best of three here. The first game went exactly as you might expect, he and I both spent our first few turns setting up Backups, his extensive removal did nothing, and about 20 cards deep it was basically impossible for him to win. The second game was much more difficult, as I mulliganed a no Backup hand on the draw and drew just one Wind Backup. I drew two more the next turn and played them but had already taken damage from a Galdes, and was under more damage pressure from an Undead Princess. I searched a Paine and grabbed a Yuna, but didn’t draw a Water card to play until three turns after (I had drawn no Water in the game up until then) and it was too late. I had dealt with the first Galdes but he had the second and I just got beat down not able to cast anything to deal with two small Forwards.
The third game went almost exactly like the first, but this time I drew even better. I removed Undead Princess with White Mage early after Famfriting it, and grabbed a Galdes with Zidane not long after. It was pretty much smooth sailing from there. I lost a Porom to Bahamut RFG off of Rydia not once, but twice over the course of the game, but it hardly mattered as there was next to no way to pressure me and I was very far ahead on hand size and deck count.
How many Backups of each element should I put down?
Ideally 3 Wind 2 Water or 4 Wind 1 Yuna.
What’s the most important thing in this deck (mechanically)?
Get to five Backups. It’s very okay to take early damage as long as you can clean up.
What’s your mentality when it comes to playing this deck?
There are a lot of important small things required to play this deck very well, but if I had to pick just one I think the most important is asking yourself “Is there a reason to play this now?”, whether it’s removal or a Forward. It is pretty common to watch players rush into the deck and spam cards (especially Forwards), when often it’s just better to not do anything and wait for the opponent to play. Sometimes that isn’t the case though, and it’s important to make judgment calls.
What should I be worried about?
I went into this up above, but mostly Summon negation, discard, and resilient Forwards. The deck is already teched for these. In terms of meta development, you should be worried that people will know the list, and that the meta you play this in will be very different from the one that I played during my tournament (which this deck was built for).
What are some common mistakes you see?
- Playing Forwards just because you have CP up.
- Valuing Asura and Porom (especially the loop) too highly.
- Not enough importance put on hitting five Backups.
- Playing Leyak for just a mill. You’d often be better off discarding it for CP.
How would you go about countering the deck?
Edward and Celes for Summon negation while jamming efficient discard, especially Flans. Hildebrand and Eald’narche have some promise to them, but look difficult to play in an Ice meta and are pretty slot intensive techs. Agrias Ice/Water with only Viking in the 3 slot is probably the most promising approach, but that deck is so reliant on opening Agrias that I’m not sure it can be considered a “counter” and is more of a “generally good matchup”.
What is overrated tech against the deck?
Mist Dragon, Scale Toad, Y’shtola, Archer.
What was Japan’s opinion on your deck and overall wind water decks just in general?
Wind/Water was rated pretty low going into the event because Yuri had difficulty living in the removal heavy meta and Lenna/Knight/Porom style decks were often pretty unspectacular against Ice variants. It’s pretty uncommon for Japanese players to openly hate on playstyles, but basically everyone (including me) agree that the deck going to cause an awful meta for mirrors and require a ton of dedicated forethought in deckbuilding the way Dadaluma has in the past.
That being said, a lot of Japanese players complimented me on the list throughout the tournament. Going into the finals Cid said there was no way for him to win on matchup and that he might take some variant of it to the next Crystal Cup in Shizuoka. Kakka (who I play with often and showed the list just beforehand) congratulated me on winning the event just after round 4. All in all I would say that there are mixed feelings about it.
What kind of changes would you have been tempted to make if it were, say, a European or American event? Would meta playstyles/choices affect many of your decisions?
In Japan it is pretty common to see most players take a middle ground in deckbuilding. In other words, it’s pretty uncommon to see them completely sac one matchup or style to boost other ones, and are more willing to play “generally good cards” as a result.. Knowing that, I think I would have accounted for more potential aggressive matchups that are just all-in on one strategy, like Scions or Gacha Chocobos (which I expect to see more of now). In terms of this particular build, I don’t think I would have changed anything; it’s not like I could add a fourth and fifth Fina or Valefor, as a game-loss would be the same as a match loss in quarterfinals.
How will you be handling the demand for you to sign Rikkus?
I’ll have to get a silver Sharpie and a lot of EMS envelopes, I guess.
The Big Picture
Final Fantasy has, up until this point, primarily been a game in which both players use Forwards to play. Obviously Backups, Summons, and Monsters are very important and have historically been critical, but the game is Forward-oriented, that is to say that most of the gameplay has revolved around them. Backups are played to improve Forward efficiency, Summons are mostly played as removal for Forwards, and Monsters used as Forward or to support Forwards. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but this is a very clear idea that the game and metagame is built on. The obvious answer as to why this is the case is simply that dealing damage with Forwards is usually how you end the game.
The deck I won Yokohama Masters with demonstrates a clear departure from this idea. Forwards are not the primary component the game is played with, and the deck has clearly been successful. What does this mean?
I believe that we are starting to see the dawn of a new era. We’ve seen aggro in the traditional sense (Turbo Discard, Mono Wind Chocobos, Wind/Fire Chocobos) that run little to no removal in favor of pushing advantage in damage and crippling the opponent’s ability to prevent it. We’ve seen tons of midrange and tempo (as that’s been most of the established game up until now, as I argue in most of my other written content), and while it can be argued to have existed previously with Leyak decks and some Earth/Wind, I believe this is the first control deck to exist in line with the traditional notion of control. It’ll be interesting to see how this dynamic continues to evolve over time, and is something we should all think about while deckbuilding moving forward.