Howdy, folks, and welcome to the Crystarium! Today I want to talk about a fun little side format that I think you’ll enjoy, Judge Tower! I first heard of Judge Tower as an MTG format and converted the rules to work within FF. Over the past year I’ve been discussing and testing it with dozens of people, both TFE teammates and Seattle locals. It’s a quick format, with many games lasting less than one minute, and a new game can be started in only seconds. It’s nice to have an easy to carry box you can take to events with you to have something to do during downtime. We’ve been having a lot of fun with it here in the Pacific North West, and I wanted to share that fun with the world!

First, a quick overview of Judge Tower. The idea is that you and your opponent both have infinite CP, and neither of you can lose the game. That’s right, no deck out, no seven damage kills, not even a Giga-Graviton can bring the game to a close. So why did I say games can last less than a minute? Because as soon as you make an error, you’re out! Did you choose something that can’t be chosen? Next game! Did you forget an auto-ability that triggered? Next game! You’re not fighting over board control, or CP economy, you’re trying to catch your opponent accidentally breaking a rule!

Here’s how it works! You start with a shared deck of between 100 to 300 cards. You play with your hand of cards face up on the table, so that you and your opponent can keep each other honest. You’ll each start with no cards in hand, and draw as normal. You have an infinite resevoir of CP of every type that you’ll draw all your CP from, so no discarding or dulling backups for resources. And you have to do everything you can possibly do. Have a character? Gotta play it. Drew a summon? Gotta cast it. Did you forget that Forward had haste and moved to MP2 without attacking? Next game!

Moving on to the next game is quick and painless. Just set everything but the deck aside and start again. Super easy! Keep playing off the deck until you decide to stop, or run out of cards, and then shuffle up the used pile into a new deck.

Once in game, things will start to get out of hand quickly. You accumulate more and more attackers, triggers, and action abilities that you have to remember every turn. You’ll quickly realize that strategy in this format is very backwards. Going out of your way to break your own characters will be the norm, and drawing extra cards will be frightening! You’ll want to keep things as simple as possible while trying to trip up your opponent. Let’s take a look at the full rules before we move on.

  • Your starting hand size is 0.
  • You have infinite CP.
  • You cannot generate CP.
  • It is assumed you used whatever type of CP a card asks for.
    (Playing Black Mage will cause you to draw 2 and discard 1)
  • If there is an action you can take, you must take it: You can’t pass priority if you can play a character or activate an ability; You must make all legal attacks and blocks.
  • Auto-abilities that trigger must be declared, even if nothing will happen when they resolve.
  • Optional effects must be performed.
    (You have to use Yuna on all Characters that move from field to BZ.)
  • If an effect says “up to,” you must do as much as possible.
    (for Rikku, you must choose all of your backups.)
  • If an action ability can be used more than once in a turn, you can only use it once. As usual, zone changes will reset this.
    (Heretical Knight Garland must be activated exactly once per turn. If he is returned to hand and replayed, he will need to be activated again.)
  • You cannot win or lose the game.
  • If you commit a Game Rules Violation, you are issued an Instant Defeat.

That’s a fair amount, but don’t be intimidated. They can pretty much be summed up as: do everything possible with infinite CP.

Here’s the decklist that I built and have been using. I’ll include some guidelines below if you want to build your own Tower. Until then, let’s talk about how the Tower plays. You’ll wind up with lots of complicated stacks, where you put three or more abilities/summons on at once, only to have your opponent respond with their own. You can arrange your plays in any order, so long as you don’t pass priority with an action you could take. Often, turns will be something along the lines of “play a Character; play a Character with an ETF; in response, activate every ability; let opponent activate all their abilities; resolve; move to combat.”

There’s a fine line to walk between playing too quickly and too slowly. Sure, you want to make sure you’re not rushing, not forgetting anything, but let me tell you from experience: the game is no fun if you examine every single card you control every time you do anything. There’s nothing worse than watching your opponent take a three minute turn to do four things in a format designed for fast paced play. Accept that you’re going to forget stuff. Failure is the best way to learn! And after all, the penalty for screwing up is just: Next game!

Keeping your own board simple is usually the best road to victory. If removal can be used on your own stuff, do it! You’ll find yourself excited to draw cards like Sin and Ninja that let you keep your field under control. Since blocks are mandatory, try to sequence your attacks so that your opponent has no choice but to break your forwards.

We usually just play until we get bored or run out of time, and we usually don’t keep track of our records, but you can set a goal number and play until someone gets that many wins if you prefer.

Some common things that trip people up:

There’s lot of effects that can be applied to your own stuff, like Enuo, that are easy to forget about. Cards like Archer and Ranger can choose themselves.

You’re still restricted to 5 backups and by the Name Rule.

Famed Mimic Gogo is unceremoniously put straight into the BZ when his condition is met. Since it’s a field ability, it doesn’t trigger or use the stack, and goes directly without waiting for anything to resolve.

A lot of people ask that since they have infinite CP, do they also have infinite S fuel, for instance if they have Sephiroth out, do they Shadow Flare every turn? And the answer is no, it’s only CP that’s supplied.

You can activate cards like Black Mage even if you have nothing to play off of them.

Lann’s ability triggers itself, and can be used to completely wipe your own board.

Just because an effect is supposed to happen at a certain time doesn’t mean it has to. Since Mateus doesn’t choose, it can be cast outside of combat.

Starter Shuyin isn’t a forward. (Love you, Dan!)

Building your own tower can be a lot of fun, as you pore over cards you never get the chance to use. Ask yourself how the card is likely to play out in game, there are a few that look enticing but don’t really do anything. Discard will almost never matter, since both players’ hands will be empty 90% of the time. Here’s a list of things I try to keep in mind when adding cards from a new set:

  • Don’t add any card that searches. Under any circumstance. You want games to be quick.
  • Speaking of wanting quick games, cards that reveal X like Moogle Brothers bog the game down and should be used sparingly, if at all.
  • Make sure each card does at least one interesting thing, even if it’s just conditional haste on Llyud.
  • Anything that draws a card is good. Anything that draws multiple cards is terrifying in the best way.
  • Things that care about a specific type of card (Tama, Siren) make you stay on your toes.
  • Try to keep a decently high ratio of forwards to non-forwards. FF is more fun when you’re arguing over the board.
  • You want cards to be a specific kind of annoying. Look for cards that make the players go “oh no this is going to be tough” and not “oh no this is going to be a chore.” (Chocobo Chick is a great example for this, there’s no interesting play there. It just reactivates itself every turn.)
  • Make sure to add some cards that players are actually happy to see, like Kefka and Feral Chaos.
  • Prioritize EX Burst, so that taking damage doesn’t feel like a waste of time. There’s a case to be made to just remove taking damage, since you can’t lose that way, but it’s just so fun every once in a while to win at like 13 damage.
  • Make sure you have enough targets for things. Don’t run Rydia if you only have four or five Earth Summons. It’s more ok for cards like Tama, where you need to remember the ability, but avoid ETFs that are unlikely to hit. I’m willing to give a little leeway for EX Bursts, though.
  • You don’t have to stick to the singleton format that I use. If you prefer to up the ratio of certain cards, do it!
  • My Judge Tower is unsleeved, so I avoid cards with real value. And while I don’t think anyone around here would steal my Tower, I’d rather not even give people the temptation. Feel free to put in expensive cards if you like. Aerith and Cloud of Darkness seem like good additions.
  • Judge Tower is a good way to get practical experience with new cards, as well! Make a tower with 2x of all the C and R from a new set, maybe a few H or L here and there, and go to town! Make sure to omit anything that searches, or anything else that seems unfun.

Judge Tower has been an absolute blast for us. Since it’s designed just for some quick fun between rounds or whenever, we avoid being too competitive in it. Let your inner Rule Shark have free reign, but otherwise try to be encouraging and accomodating. Give people a bit of leeway to correct themselves. I usually try to wait until the next action is fully taken before issuing a game loss. There’s a lot of times when it takes a couple seconds to remember “oh wait I can’t do that.” For example, if my opponent dulls a Brave Forward when it attacks, I’ll take a moment, then declare a block, then wait another moment, then point it out. If you’re spectating, wait even longer. You want to give the players themselves the chance to catch things first. As you and your opponent play more and more, let that window shrink though. I really do encourage you to play slightly quicker than you’re comfortable with, just to ramp up the tension.

If you end up enjoying Judge Tower, hit me up on Twitter and let me know. I’d love to hear your experiences! I hope the format is fun and engaging for you and your play group. Having multiple ways to play and enjoy FFTCG adds so much to our appreciation of the game, especially formats that encourage us to play with cards that would otherwise lie forgotten in some box somewhere. Thank you for once again joining us here at the Crystarium. We look forward to seeing you again next time!