Hi y’all, Jared Wallace, better known as eureka, here today to diverge from my usual MO of introducing B tier Control strats. Instead, I hope to teach you how to play Fire/Lightning XIII, aka the new premier aggro deck, to reasonable effect.
Not long after the release of the XIII Custom Starter two decks featuring XIII packages burst onto the JP competitive scene (at the time L3): Fire/Ice and Fire/Lightning. While not immediately clear, after its resounding success at Masters Tokyo Fire/Lightning has come out as clearly the more threatening of the two decks, enough to warrant Standard adaptation. The deck has converted at both of the Standard tournaments that have occurred since then, Masters Final and the Kobe National Qualifier, landing in top 4 of the former and 2 in top 8 (20% conversion) in the latter.
This is simply to say that this version (Fire/Lightning) of the XIII deck does indeed appear to be the premier version of the deck and is good enough to make waves in Standard. You should expect to see it at any given tournament for the foreseeable future. Whether you opt to play it or not, understanding what it can and can’t do at any given point in time will be valuable in upcoming tournaments.
Now, let’s get to the deck itself.
Part 1: The Deck
- Lightning is the powerhouse of the deck and it doesn’t make sense to talk about other cards before her, because they’re all here to make this card work to effect.
- The key number of XIII attackers to utilize Lightning fully is 3. This is maybe the most important thing to remember from this article. 3 attacks will draw you two cards (putting Lightning in the ‘free Forward’ realm a la Paine, Warrior of Light) while putting on appropriate damage pressure, 4 points before blocks.
- What about less than 3 attacks? What about more than 3 attacks?, you may be wondering. Don’t worry, I will talk about this extensively in Part 3; for now, just take it on face value that 3 is the magic number.
- Because 3 attackers is so important for enabling this card, most of the deck is going to revolve around setting up and maintaining that number of attackers; everything else is secondary.
- This is your bread and butter and the reason we play Fire/Lightning specifically. Vanille and Hope together present the most straightforward, consistent method of presenting a board that threatens the key 3 attack Lightning. Vanille and Hope can both search Lightning yes, but just as importantly they also search each other. This means that with a single copy of either of these you can ‘daisy chain’ your searches on the first turn of the game to put both on the field and a Lightning in hand.
- Less importantly, Vanille and Hope are also effectively 2 CP Forwards (they both give you 2 CP back via search) but have pretty reasonable bodies at 8000 and 7000, respectively. This goes a long way in keeping the deck resilient against 2 CP hate cards such as Ixion, Kuja, and the like which would otherwise be slam dunk cards against us.
- An ‘extender’ of sorts that gets to come down alongside Hope and/or Vanille for 0 cost by reducing the cost of whatever searcher you play alongside it. Between Fang and Lumina/Aldo some otherwise unkeepable hands become keepable. The pump effect is also big in preventing an early 9000 Forward from stopping our turn 2 attacks; something that is less likely to happen in Standard than in L3 but still happens from time to time.
- The only cheap Haste available for XIII in these colors and unreserved names. The primary function of Haste here is to put us back up to 3 attackers on turn 2 after Vanille or Hope bites the dust. The auto abilities are not irrelevant but not nearly as important as the Haste keyword and ability to recover from a single removal option from our opponent.
- A new addition from Opus 19, there is no way you build the deck without this card anymore. Unblockable damage offers the deck another form of reach that, while not desperately needed to make the deck competitive, gives us a few more percentage points against grindy decks that could otherwise potentially turn the corner. Additionally, it’s often a blowout card in the mirror that stops your opponent from being able to attack without first spending 2 or 3 cards on removing Y’shtola.
- I have experimented with many forms of giving Haste to the XIII crew and Belias is the only acceptable form. The card is essentially 0 CP when resolved and, assuming you draw a card off of Lightning from doing so, completely free while helping our count. It’s really just that simple. Electric Jellyfish and other options are not completely unplayable, but are much less efficient and don’t warrant the slot.
Lightning Rez Cards
- Phoenix, Reeve
- Your opponent will opt to kill Lightning as early as possible. Phoenix and Reeve give you more access to Lightning, and therefore the key 3 attack Lightning turns that make the deck more powerful. Phoenix is much better than Reeve as it is more flexible in timing, but running both gives added consistency and Reeve still makes the slot.
- Lumina, Aldo, Sazh
- Lumina, Aldo, and to a lesser extent Sazh are essentially the only Backups besides Reeve worth considering.
- Lumina is the standout here as it is a Category XIII character and adds to the Fang and Bahamut counts. This is a major contributor in making Fang/Lumina starts much more palatable.
- Aldo is a strictly worse Lumina about 95% of the time.
- Sazh is a very niche tech option that was simply a nice EX that contributed to our XIII count and gave us options for searching Bahamut and Phoenix, but is not critical to the strategy and now conflicts with Forward Sazh in some builds.
Optional XIII Forwards
- Sazh/Dajh, Caius, Gadot
- Sazh and Dajh is an optional package of cheap XIII Forwards that serves as an extender similar to Fang but much less potent. It can allow some very niche hands to be kept but is ultimately not very powerful. I recommend a 2/1 Sazh/Dajh ratio if you opt to run it.
- Caius is, in my opinion, a trap card. The 9000 body is good and the effect is appreciated, but XIII really needs to keep every single card it plays on the board for as long as possible, and Caius is too much of a liability.
- Gadot, both the 2 CP and 4 CP, have shown up here and there in online and topping lists. In my opinion, unless you have a really strong reason, there is basically no reason to consider playing either Gadot when we’re already cutting into other options such as Sazh/Dajh.
- Free Summons, Ramuh2, Odin2, Seymour, Terra, Braska
- Not much to be said about these individual cards; they’re all solid options and you will simply choose the ones that fit the meta best. In my opinion, the free Summon series has significantly worsened the standing of Braska since this isn’t a deck that benefits highly from holding the removal at instant speed when compared to decks such as Magissa.
- There are some other options that have been floating around topping lists from various events; I will not go into detail about all of them. Just know that there are more options, I simply don’t have the time to cover each and every one. The only other card I want to shout out here is the new Fire/Wind Zidane, which is a tech I considered and gave up on for consistency reasons, but performed well in one of the topping lists.
Part 2: Openers and Mulligans
Now, I’m going to go over the common openings. I’ll talk about them as if you were going first; things don’t change drastically when you go 2nd playing this deck. You’ll have an extra card in your hand ending, meaning you have more flexibility in what cards you hold on to. You don’t often use the extra card to develop extra threats.
- Vanille or Hope is going to be your most basic, balanced, bread and butter open. Discard 2 to play Vanille or Hope and search for the one you don’t have. Discard 2 to play the one you just searched and search for Lightning to set up the 3 attack next turn.
- If you’re already holding Lightning and you started with Vanille, you can search for Noel with Hope instead for follow up if Vanille or Hope is removed.
- Otherwise, just keep your best card in hand. This is going to depend a lot on the matchup, but most of the time Haste (Belias or Noel), Phoenix, Amaterasu, an extra copy of Vanille, or Bahamut are going to be your best 1-of cards to hang on to.
- Fang is the most common extension that you will opt into. Simply play the Fang before Vanille or Hope, and follow the same steps as the BnB above. You’ll end with Fang, Vanille, and Hope on board with a single card, Lightning, in hand. Fang will be online, meaning it’s more difficult for your opponent to chew through the board with damage-based removal, and a single blocker will likely not be able to hold back any attacks.
- As a 0 CP Forward, Sazh is the other extender you can opt into. You play it the same as Fang and just discard the Dajh that you searched to pay for Vanille or Hope. It is just a less powerful Fang in this regard.
- Fang and either Lumina or Aldo is an acceptable alternative opening. You play Lumina or Aldo to search for Hope (or Vanille when using Lumina and you don’t have extra Lightning CP). Then play Fang, discount the card searched and play it, searching again for Lightning. This will leave you with your backup, Fang, and Hope (or Vanille), with just a Lightning in hand. Lumina is preferable to Aldo because it will enable the Fang buff effect and is more flexible, as you can opt for Vanille if you need to.
- As a very niche alternative hand, you can keep a hand with exactly Sazh, Noel, and Lightning. Play Sazh and (if so inclined) Dajh, with the intention of playing Noel and Lightning next turn. This isn’t very consistent and hardly ever comes up (also you may have to draw Lightning CP for Noel), but it is on the border of acceptable risk.
Given our openings, our mulligan criteria dictates we keep a hand that has the cards as follows and the color CP required to play them.
Part 3: Minimizing Risk
This next segment is going to be the most important one. In this segment I aim to convince you that 3 is indeed the magic number of attackers for Lightning, and in doing so teach you how to approach playing the deck at a higher level. In my opinion, this is what is going to separate the successful XIII players from the rest of the pack.
I’ll start by addressing the elephant in the room, the talking point that every uninformed player loves to complain about with this deck, and be very clear about it; the turn 2 kill mentality is a trap.
Because 4 attackers with Lightning deals 6 damage, any setup for the turn 2 kill relies on dealing a single point of damage on turn 1 (so, the clock looks like 1→7). There are only 2 Forwards that can do this: Lightning or Noel.
There is never a world in which you will expose your Lightning to slow removal that can only be used on your opponent’s turn (such as Typhon), even against a known opponent on Wind, just to aim for a turn 2 kill, when turn 3 is much safer and less committal.
In the case of Noel, you simply do not have enough CP to play Vanille, Hope, and Noel on turn 1 while searching a Lightning on the play. Meaning you will be trying to topdeck a Lightning to actually find your turn 2 kill; not exactly a solid strategy. Because of this it is only realistic on the draw, and this is the only possible time I would ever consider going for the turn 2 kill. Even then, there is often very little difference in terms of opposing counterplay between a turn 2 kill and a safer turn 3 kill, and I would encourage patience when possible.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about what we can do for a turn 3 kill. The minimum number of attackers required for this line of play is 3 attackers. On turn 2 we attack with 3 Forwards to deal 4 damage, and on turn 3 attack with at least another 3 Forwards for another 4 points of damage, resulting in lethal. In terms of clock, it looks like 0→4→7. In addition, we are going to draw 2 cards from Lightning’s ability, meaning that Lightning reaches the ‘free Forward’ CP efficiency, similar to cards like Paine and Warrior of Light, but without the setup restriction.
So, if 3 attackers was the minimum, what happens when I add an additional attacker for a total of 4? The clock becomes 0→6→7, and we draw 3 cards off of Lightning. Clever readers most likely already see where I’m going with this, but you’ll notice that whether we have 3 attackers or 4, the clock does not change, 3 turns are required for lethal. In addition, while we draw an additional card with Lightning a single extra attacker does not regain enough CP to pay for both the card itself and the cost to play it. In simpler terms, there is a rather significant diminishing return for the extra attacker when moving from 3 to 4.
Were that not enough, we can actually argue that dealing the extra 2 points of damage is a bad thing. Taking the new Opus 19 Yuna or the arguably more meta-relevant Alphinaud for example, there are many cards that can punish us extremely hard at Damage 5, and far fewer at Damage 4 and below. Of course, your opponent might just hit an EX Burst a turn earlier, which could make a big difference as well. This is all to say that, given that the lethal clock doesn’t change between dealing 4 and 6 damage on turn 2, there is very little incentive for us to commit to an extra 2 damage on turn 2, at least in most circumstances.
And so, 3 attackers on turn 2 is the sweet spot for both maximizing CP efficiency and committing the bare minimum to the board while still maintaining enough pressure to present a turn 3 lethal. Now, let’s translate this into a list of actual advice.
- Unless you know you’re playing against a deck that can’t punish you (like Wind) or are playing around something specific don’t use your extenders like Fang and Sazh on turn 1. Those are valuable cards in hand that could translate into CP for a Phoenix that helps maintain your lethal clock later.
- Value recovery cards that can help you maintain your turn 3 lethal through disruption highly. Noel, Phoenix, Reeve, and to a lesser extent Amaterasu can be premium.
- When in doubt, be patient. Take an extra turn to build the pressure rather than playing into a suspected removal summon and coming up short.
- Understand that sometimes even if it’s a chump block, opponents will block you to get in just under lethal, at 6 damage. If you suspect that sort of play is coming, value Y’shtola and, to a lesser extent Seymour more highly. They can sneak in the 7th point of damage even after your XIII Forwards can’t get through.
Expect your opponent to hold all instant speed removal for your Lightning. Think about how Lightning dying on this turn will impact your clock, and hold on to cards (like Hasters and Lightning rez cards) that can help you maintain it.
All in all, XIII is by far the best true aggro deck we’ve had since… Sterne Vikings, maybe? To hammer the important bit home; just always hold cards for 4 damage on turn 2 and 3, because that’s really all it takes to win the game, and you can play around more by doing so.
And that’s all we have folks! Sorry about all the delays in getting this article out, I know several people have been asking when I’m getting this out there and it took a little longer than I expected. At any rate, happy aggroing and show my favorite category some love! Until next time!