Howdy, folks, and welcome to HowWL! I’m sure many of you are here for the spoiler so I will waste no time sharing it. Also, I recommend right clicking and opening image in a new tab, because the full res art is GORGEOUS!
While I think this card will be decent in sealed, as a vanilla 8k is perfectly playable though unexciting, he’ll shine in draft. This will be a great payoff for dedicating the bulk of your deck to one element. Historically 9ks have been difficult to remove in limited, and we can assume that 10k will be similarly resilient. Rinok and Seeq will be able to handle it at C, and Yiazmat can rumble as well, but most of the time your opponent is going to have to string together two damage sources to take down Garif. In this article, I will talk about Garif’s place in limited briefly, and use him as an avenue to discuss consistency.
So how do we maximize this card?
As a Common, Garif will be plentiful in the draft, and as he requires a pretty large dedication to Earth, most other players won’t have much demand for him, meaning you’ll be able to pick him up somewhat late. He is still an on curve body that is playable in multiples, so don’t expect him to go last pick or anything, but for non-primary-Earth drafters the average pack will have 2 or 3 better options to choose from. Garif doesn’t lend himself well to a hyper-aggressive style of deck, and will want you to play out a large backline to help get his ability online. If you’re in two elements and taking Garifs, you’ll be incentivized to take Earth cards over your second element, even if the Earth cards are slightly weaker. While it may seem like this will make your deck worse, let’s look at why it’s a good idea, aside from the obvious reason of enabling these massive tribesmen as much as possible.
If your deck has a strong core in one element (26+ cards) then your chances of not being able to play any given card go down. The more your second element moves away from being a central part of your deck, the more consistent your primary element becomes. In a deck with 3 or more Garifs, I would be looking to play 29 Earth cards minimum, and really aiming to drop three Earth backups each game. Of course the dream is to end up with 40 playable Earth cards and play no other element, but most Garif decks are going to end up two element affairs.
When playing 10-14 cards of a single element, that element will be less consistent, so we need ways to mitigate that. One strategy is to take cards that you are aiming to play later in the game. This gives you more time to draw into a source of CP. We also want to avoid cards that are only good in specific situations, the more broadly applicable a card is the better chance we’ll have of being able to play it when it is good. Compare Seeq, which outright breaks any forward, to a card like Golem, which is really only great if you manage to get a combat step where there is a battle where your forward has equal power or is at -1k. Sure in that instance Golem is going to be a much better use of resources, but a card that is bad often but great sometimes is not worth gambling on when it already won’t be castable sometimes. We don’t need to be compounding that unreliability. Golem is a card I’m looking forward to playing in heavy Earth decks, but the less devoted I am to that element the less I want to see him.
Let’s take a look at an example backline from O8 and see what we can learn from it:
Here we have a strong core in Wind with eight backups, and a support element in Earth with only five. We’ve got the standard 13 backups, but because the two Waltrills dig us deeper in our deck, and the two Norschtalens search for more backups, we have much better access to our development than any deck we are likely to play against. Also, the Norschtalen and the Sherlotta can give us access to our Earth CP, making that element more playable. All of our Wind backups functionally cost us 2cp, making them great reliable early plays, while three of our Earth backups are expensive and will only be played later into the game, after we’ve had lots of opportunities to draw into more Earth CP. These cards have broadly applicable uses, and after the midgame starts can be deployed almost any turn we choose to play them.
Also, since we have ten backups which are essentially 4cp, this gives us frequent access to one of the best possible opens: two backups on turn one, followed by a third backup on turn two paid entirely with renewable CP. The earlier we can start playing cards without discarding to pay for them, the stronger our position. Keeping cards in hand expands our options while allowing us to stockpile CP for massive game-winning turns. Having reliable early access to backups that are cheap enables our deck to build for the long game.
And now time for a story. I guarantee you I’ll tie this back in to FFTCG limited, so please bear with me:
My friends and I enjoyed an interesting board game a while back, Battalia: the Creation. It mixed deck construction like Dominion, where you buy cards for your deck and reshuffle your discard into the deck when you run out of cards, with strategic board control. You would use your deck to build roads and cities through your lands, to upgrade those cities, and to give buffs to your heroes, then move and fight with your heroes to conquer your opponent’s cities. The goal was to be the first player with five Level 4 Cities. Each turn you would buy new cards to increase the average power of your deck. Like how cities had four levels, there were also four levels of currency cards, and if you drew 3 copies of any specific currency you could outright build a city of that level, so the dream was getting a bunch of those cards and just building your way to victory so you wouldn’t have to risk fighting. At the end of each turn, however, you had to discard your whole hand and draw a new hand, so you couldn’t just save the currency until you draw them all.
To make it easier to assemble a specific hand, you could take two cards from your hand, set one aside so that you add it to your hand next turn, and to pay for that ability you would remove the second from the game entirely. So when we saw this ability, we treated removing a card as a cost, with the assumption it would weaken the deck by losing some of the cards we had assembled throughout the game, but my friend Chris theorycrafted a way to prove us wrong.
After about six games, Chris devised a new strategy. He completely ignored the board, focused entirely on buying upwards through the currency levels, and removed cards from the game aggressively, rarely going above the minimum deck size of 10 cards, whereas the rest of the players were pushing to around 20-25 cards. About the time we started the midgame, where most of our lands were connected, decks were starting to take shape, and we could really start to fight each other, Chris stunned us all by building a Level 4 City. We’d never even seen someone build a Level 3 City at this point, so we were shocked that he’d gotten so lucky. Then he proved it wasn’t luck by doing it again next turn. Before anyone else could do anything, he built the rest of the cities and won, right around where the rest of us would have considered the game to be halfway through. How did he accomplish this, we wondered?
It turned out his ten card deck wound up being seven of the highest currency, with three other cards. Since a hand was five cards, this meant that he was guaranteed a city at minimum every two turns. He had turned the “cost” of removing cards from the deck into a benefit. He had completely cut out as much fat as possible and focused on the best cards he had access to. We played a couple more games with this strategy, but ultimately house ruled against it, as we found it to be unquestionably the best strategy in the game, and there was almost no interaction or ability to stop your opponents, so it just came down to who was able to buy high level currency the fastest.
So what does this have to do with FFTCG limited?
What we can learn from this is that focusing on your strongest cards is the route to victory. By maximizing your access to these cards, you increase the power of your deck. Why I bring this up is that I recently held a twitter poll asking how likely people are to play more than 40 cards, and the majority of respondants were willing to do it. If you’re looking to get your win percentage as high as possible, this is a trap. Though each additional card only destabilizes your deck by a tiny amount, it may seem like the cost to add more cards is low, but the card you are adding is probably the worst card in the deck. (If you’re just looking to have fun, or looking to experiment with new cards, especially early in a set, by all means play whatever deck size you like, this isn’t an indictment of any play style, but I’m going to focus on competitive limited here. After all, this series isn’t called How To Have A Nice Time Playing Limited.)
This is especially important in sealed. In draft you have access to a much wider card pool, and the average power level of each card in your deck will be reasonably high, but in sealed you only get so many cards to build your deck from, and the difference between your bombs and your filler is going to be much sharper. Every card you add past forty seriously lowers your access to your best cards. Looking at Opus 8, compare a card like Veritas or Lasswell to any C or R (except Shiva R who was an absolute powerhouse.) Sure there are specific situations where the C/R will shine, but by and large the bombs are going to be better draws more often. By lowering the amount of chaff those cards are surrounded by, and also by adding cards that draw or look through your deck, like the new cycle of summons or Mog VI, we give ourselves the best chances to draw those strong cards. Nothing is worse than getting some absolute powerhouse and not seeing it a single time throughout the event, and every card that helps you dig through your deck helps avoid this fate.
In closing, Garif will be a strong C that will require a lot of dedication from your deck construction. Comparing to Shango from Opus 8, he is much better up front while being only slightly weaker when fully enabled. Also, he should be a touch easier to make 10k than Shango, but not by much. 10k is going to be a serious roadblock for your opponents, and in multiples may prove to be impossible to circumnavigate.
When building our decks, we should keep an eye towards whether we want an even split between our elements, or whether it is better to value one element more than the others. Consider how reliable our backline is, and how well we can sift through our deck to find what we need. Never play more cards than you absolutely have to, and try to find ways to functionally lower your deck size even further with cards like Mind Flayer and the new Cuchulainn, the Impure.
Thank you for reading thus far. I am eternally humbled by the support I have received from this great community. Consider following me on twitter at @HFftcg, and I hope to see you again next month for the card-by-card breakdown of Opus 9: Lords & Chaos.