Editor’s note: This was a very eye-opening read for me while I was developing as a player and I’ve been given permission from Jared to share it on the Crystarium. It’s a year old so some of the information and meta references might be dated, but the core concepts still hold true.
Hello, my name is Jared Wallace, known primarily online in the FFTCG community as Eureka. I have been playing FFTCG since Opus I and adopted the Japanese playstyle as soon as I picked up the game by reading Japanese articles, analyzing decklists, watching Masters, and listening to (or reading) interviews of Japanese players. As you might have guessed, I am a strong advocate for the Japanese philosophy and playstyle in FFTCG and would like to share that with other people in the Western community. I feel I am fairly well-versed and qualified to do this, but I do not intend to represent myself as an expert on Japanese FFTCG or the Chapters game; I obviously do not represent every Japanese player and what I am writing is my own personal interpretation and philosophy based on and shaped by my interaction with and analysis of FFTCG in Japan.
Before I begin, I think it is necessary to say that it is not my intention to negate the viability of any playstyle by advocating this one. I strongly believe that there are many ways to think about this game and that new deckbuilding styles, tech choices, and approaches to the game are what keep this game fresh and attractive to us all. My intent is not to stifle creativity, but to provide a structure to players that are lacking one or are looking to expand their understanding of the game. Whether you are a spike, a master brewer, or a brand new player, I hope that this article can expand your thinking and inspire you to try new things, the same way that other content creators have inspired me. For that reason, I ask you to buy in to what I am writing, and not negate it on the surface level because it clashes with your personal views on the game.
Part I: Playstyle
It is important to start by understanding the Japanese playstyle’s general vision for a game when discussing it’s other principles. Without it, it is impossible to understand individual decision making, card analysis, and deckbuilding choices. I have noticed that people at my locals and that interact with online tend to think about their gameplan in terms of cards that have synergy with each other, such as small (5000-6000) burn effects comboing together in Mono Fire, or running Refia into the DGS chain. While this is not a wrong approach to deckbuilding by any means, this is not what I mean by your gameplan. What I mean is how you tend execute your first few turns regardless of opening (or not opening) a particular card or combo. For example, Mono Lightning tends to rush up to 4 backups and focus on removal elements (such as Al-Cid and Edea) and Red Mage to keep the opponent down and win a damage race.
In the Japanese playstyle, decks tend to try to play up to a certain number of backups before playing out Forwards, usually this number is three or four, but it can vary depending on archetype and tech choices. Obviously this is only done when possible; if you don’t draw an ideal backup curve you can’t play out to that many backups, or you might be forced to respond to an opposing rush (looking at you Chocobos) with your own Forwards and alter your gameplan, but the vision for an ideal game in the Japanese playstyle usually dictates playing out three or four backups and playing out Forwards or potentially more backups from that point on. Why is this? The answer is surprisingly simple: if you play backups first you will generally be able to play all of the cards in your hand efficiently and will not run into dead draws as often. The more backups you have the less you will end up paying for 3 CP cards inefficiently, and the easier it is to pay for more expensive, powerful cards. It is also the reason 2 CP backups are very common in the Japanese playstyle as opposed to value oriented ones; you generally want to open and immediately play more on average in order to mitigate the risk of opening backups you are forced to play inefficiently, namely 3 CP backups.
At the risk of sounding painfully obvious, it is logical to say that the longer a game goes on the player with more backups is generally favored. Why? Because they will be paying CP more effectively than the player with less backups, discarding for CP less often and having a card and (usually) board advantage. The other main reason low backup openings are less favored are because early EX Bursts, particularly powerful ones such as 7 CP Odin and 3 CP Leviathan have a tendency to flip the game completely in the opposing player’s favor.
Backups aside, the Japanese playstyle tends to be centered on playing cards efficiently to preserve card advantage. Players tend to think two or three turns ahead about how they can efficiently play a card and choosing lines that allow them to maintain a consistent card advantage, rather than ones that may have a big payoff by putting a lot of pressure on your opponent but can be punished by removal, such as an opposing Al-Cid combo or Shantotto. For example, a Mono Ice player with the hand 1 CP Summoner, Opus 3 Time Mage, Kuja L, and Zidane S with three backups on board may elect to play the two backups to play Kuja and Zidane efficiently together (at exactly 5 CP all paid on board) next turn rather than running out the Kuja and discarding a card for Zidane to put extra pressure on the opponent at risk of Kuja being removed and losing out on pressure and card advantage.
Another example of thinking about removal efficiently is the emphasis on 1:0 trades and their prevalence in the Japanese metagame. Al-Cid, Edea, Xande and Sazh combo, Cuchulainn on trades, and many more all demonstrate this very important principle. These are not ‘control’ elements, they are just looking to peel off card advantage from your opponent and inch your way into a lead. In that way it is important to understand that, from this perspective, FFTCG in its current iteration is not a game of consisting of aggro, midrange, combo, control, and tempo decks the way that Magic and other similar TCGs are. FFTCG is a game of efficient play, it is a game of inches in which either deck can win regardless of hard counters and tech choices the other may have based on how well each player can squeeze out advantage over time through trading and playing efficiently. As a brief side note, I believe this is the most controversial statement I will make in this article and I ask that, whether you agree or not, you humor me and continue reading.
Part II: Card Analysis and Deckbuilding
Now that I’ve explained the Japanese playstyle, I can start to explain what types of cards are valued and why Japanese deckbuilding looks the way it does, but first I will briefly explain the concept of ‘net CP’. Because all cards (except those of Light and Dark element) can be discarded for 2 CP in this game, every card played carries an additional cost of 2 CP, because it can no longer be used to generate CP. Let’s take a brand new Opus 4 card, Magic Pot, for example. It is a 1 CP Monster card, but playing it to the field costs the card itself, meaning the card actually costs a net 3 CP. Playing a 4 CP Forward such as Tidus L generating CP from your hand makes you lose two cards and the Tidus L, meaning you lost a net 6 CP to play him. This concept is important when analyzing cards, as cards in this game often have a way of not really costing as much as written on the card.
Let’s look at some examples of that, starting with perhaps the oldest and most basic example: Serah S. Serah is a 3 CP Ice Forward with 6000 Power and the effect “When Serah enters the Field, your opponent chooses 1 card in their hand and discards it.” I have watched many a people look at the card and say “a 3 cost 6k is below curve”, dismissing the card, but let’s take a look at her net CP. Serah costs a net 5 CP to play but takes away one card from your opponent, making them lose 2 CP in resources; in this way Serah’s net CP cost is really only 3 (as long as her ability resolves). This means Serah is significantly above the curve at 6000 Power, with the majority of other net 3 CP cards being 1 CP Forwards such as Tsukinowa, Yuffie, et cetera. Obviously Serah is not the only card with these kinds of upsides, Zidane S is ridiculously above the curve offering the same net 3 CP as Serah but offering flexibility with a draw or discard as well as sitting at 7000 Power, comparable to Famed Mimic Gogo but without a downside. Steiner is a net 5 CP card, his own card being replaced by the card he tutors while offering EX Burst, search consistency, and feeding the IX engine. He even makes Zidane a net 2 CP 7000 card! Other notable cards functioning similarly which have above-the-curve net CP are Lenna + Gogo/Knight, Paine, wind Zidane (when his buff is up), and Squall R + Laguna R combo.
Let’s take a look at some less intuitive examples: cards which remove your opponent’s resources. Al-Cid is a ridiculously overpowered card in this regard, allowing you to remove an opponent’s Forward of 6000 (6000 to 11000 range depending on your combo piece) and play an additional 3 CP Lightning Forward in addition to his 6000 Power body for a net 8 CP before calculating resources taken away from your opponent by removing their Forward. This highlights another important concept to think about during both gameplay and deckbuilding: depending on the net CP cost of the Forward removed by the Al-Cid combo his net CP (and therefore efficiency) change. Let’s dig a little bit deeper here with a gameplay example: pretend there are two Mono Lightning vs. Wind/Water matches happening right next to each other. One Wind/Water player has a 4 CP Wakka Forward on the Field, and the other has a Zidane S on the field. Both of our Mono Lightning players make the obvious play, clearing the opposing Forwards with an Al-Cid + Onion Knight combo. Assuming all other board factors (Backups, Forwards, etc) equal, which Mono Lightning player had a better exchange? It may be obvious, but the one who killed Wakka came out ahead. That Wakka cost a net 6 CP for the first Wind/Water player to play to the Field, while the Zidane S only cost the second Wind/Water player a net 3 CP (or 2 if they played it discounted). This means that the first Mono Lightning player played his combo for just net 2 CP while the second played his for net 5 CP (or 6 if the Zidane was discounted). The implications of this are huge for deckbuilding, namely that the more value oriented and less efficient the cards in your deck are, the more vulnerable your deck is to efficient removal, and the more card advantage you lose when they are removed. This amplifies how much 1:0 trades hurt in-game, and is huge factor in Japanese deckbuilding.
The last thing you will find that all decks have is a source of power superiority, in order for your Forwards to push over your opponent’s. Mono decks will use their corresponding powerboosting backup (Lebreau, Lulu, Duke Larg), decks with Wind in them will use Maria, dual color decks will generally look for something else in their element (Cyclops for Lightning, Zack, Selphie, Belias, and Cloud C for Fire, Gippal and Golem for Earth, et cetera) so that they can push their Forwards over their opponent’s for damage. Many decks will have multiple sources of power superiority. Decks without a clear source of power superiority tend not to see much play (Ice/Water is a notable example in personal testing) because their attacks are vulnerable to getting walled out by defensive Forwards.
In sum, the Japanese playstyle and deckbuilding generally tries to avoid playing cards which are vulnerable to removal and therefore combines mostly net CP efficient cards with removal and power equalization (such as Cyclops) in order to press both card and potential damage advantage. Backups are heavily emphasized early in order to maximize CP efficiency and mitigate the risk of losing the game to potentially game-changing EX Bursts. A combination of net CP efficiency and backup emphasis generates card advantage naturally as the game continues and eventually the overwhelming card advantage will generate a board discrepancy in which the game state breaks as a result of aforementioned removal or power superiority resulting in a win.
While not a complete overview, these are the points of the Japanese playstyle and deckbuilding mentality that I think are the most important to discuss and that most aspects of FFTCG can be discussed strategically in these terms. If you feel I have missed something, misunderstood something, have anything to add or anything you would like to ask a question about, please let me know. I’m always looking for feedback and for new ways to think about the game.
Till next time!