If you started playing FFTCG sometime within the first ten sets of the game, you’ve probably received and/or given the advice “you should play 17 Backups.” After all, it was the golden rule of our game. As covered in my very, very old article, playing up to a certain number of Backups was essential to the vast majority of strategies that existed in the game, with very few exceptions. That article and the principles stated in it are actually quite hilarious to re-read, given how much the current state of the game stands in antithesis to them. As such, I thought I would take the time today to revisit some of these concepts through the lens of the modern state of the game, and spend some time discussing the two cards on everyone’s mind. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Part 1: Non-Backup Economy
The first thing we need to understand why Backups have fallen off so heavily lately is the concept of a non-Backup economy. If we take the term ‘economy’ to mean the cumulative sum of all of the CP generated over the course of the game by each player, it’s easy to understand that this can be broken down into three distinct types: CP generated by Backups, CP generated by discarding cards, and CP ‘saved’ by discounting or ignoring the cost of cards (this includes EX Bursts). For the vast majority of the game and until quite recently, a lot of the CP generated over the course of the game was coming from Backups. Recently, however, many non-Backup cards that generate CP over time have been introduced to the game.
The obvious examples are cards like Macherie and Sterne, which not only save you CP with their discounting field abilities, but can turn an external resource (cards in the Break Zone) into CP with their action abilities, either directly (like Macherie via drawing or discounting the cost of a Summon) or indirectly (both Sterne and Macherie). Some other cards that are maybe not quite as obvious are cards like Sophie and Lakshmi, which draw you cards every turn they stay on the field and, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Neo Exdeath and Scale Toad, which take away value from the opponent in one form or another. A step down from these are cards that threaten to generate value but do not guarantee it, like Vanille, Minwu, and Braska’s Final Aeon.
Side note: Macherie and Sterne are particularly egregious in that not only act as non-Backup economy, but the more you disregard Backups and slot cards of the type that feeds them the more economy they generate.
Of course, economy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The core objective of the game is, after all, beating your opponent. As such it makes sense that over the course of the game you and your opponent are essentially throwing your CP wallets at each other over and over again until one player emerges victorious. In my old article I called this “net CP,” with the ancient example of Al-Cid combo being a very CP efficient way of dealing with your opponent’s resources. This concept still rings entirely true; Doga is essentially a 0 CP Forward since it draws you three cards with it’s auto ability (if played as intended) and also converts an extra 2 CP minimum by binning 3 Summons for Macherie later. This makes it evaluate to a Paine with more power that can come down on turn 1, no setup required. If your opponent spends any amount of CP to remove it, they’re not coming out ahead, though it may be necessary just to prevent further CP bleed from a Sophie or Doga’s own auto ability.
Some other cards that evaluate to be very cheap on ‘net’ CP are Sophie (and by extension Ursula, Yang, Mont Leonis, and the like), Sarah (MOBIUS), Lenna, the aforementioned Macherie and Sterne Leonis, the list goes on and on. Now, you might be raising an eyebrow now as you realize that many of these cards evaluating to net 0 CP or 2 CP are cards we recognize as putting a ton of damage pressure on your opponent. Yeah. That brings us to the next point.
Part 2: Game Speed
Raise your hand if you’ve been killed on turn 3 by Doga. It’s okay, we’ve all been there, and this is the second piece of the puzzle when discussing the decline of Backups. The game has sped up an incredible amount during Opus 14. While it’s true there were decks that could kill your opponent relatively quickly in previous metas, many of these decks were fragile all-in strategies (think Golbez or Ninjas). Instead, the decks that we would have considered to be aggro were mostly about putting down a difficult-to-interact-with, consistent clock with cards like Illua and Alba, while also threatening lethal with some range of Haste Forwards. These decks required playing some number of Backups in order to avoid blowout EX Bursts or board clears for their threats.
In contrast, Opus 14 aggro decks like Doga, Vikings, and Chocobos can not only throw out boards threatening lethal over a couple of turns as early as turn 1, but are also able to forgo Backups (and therefore the ‘setup’ phase of the game) for the most part, instead using their discarded cards as economy via Macherie and Sterne. As previously mentioned, the level of aggression that these decks can put out was previously only available to relatively fragile archetypes, but provided they can be used with Sterne or Macherie, the added economy has made these aggressive strategies much more resilient. As such, a single board-wipe is wholly insufficient at keeping them down for more than a turn or two, and these board wipes need to come down as early as turn 1 or 2 in order to keep pace with them. This has led to a shortening of the setup phase of the game, and decreased the average number of turns in a game as well.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if there are fewer turns in a game, you are not going to be able to tap your Backups for CP as much, making them a dubious investment for generating value over the course of the game. Additionally, if your economy is primarily generating CP through Backups, it runs the risk of ceasing to function altogether when you don’t have an adequate number of turns that you are allowed to ignore your opponent’s threats and play Backups.
Part 3: Adapting
So, are Backups dead? Well, not quite, Backups are still the default way to generate value over time; they are just not the only way to do so anymore. We simply need to change the way we think about deckbuilding, adding additional forms of non-Backup economy where we can and making sure that our Backup lineup is set to the speed of the game. Let’s walk through this together, taking Monks as an example, given that it’s the deck I’ve used the most over the course of the set and a good example of how you should change your Backups to line up well with the meta.
Opus 14 Start of Set – 17 Backups
The start of a set is always a little messy and so was this Backup lineup, but think of it as a reflection of how we want to play the Backups assuming we were allowed to play a slow start gentleman’s game. A good chunk of Monks Backup, a single reset button Shantotto to compliment our Titans, and Tyro for the color-fixing and EX buffer.
Opus 14 When Doga and Verstael Take Off – Still 17 Backups
The first main evolution here is that I introduce a 2nd Shantotto and a Rydia over a couple of choice Backups to try and patch-fix the aggro problem without taking away my ability to generate Water for Sarah (MOBIUS). This would turn out to be a miserable failure, because it’s just so clunky. Cid Garlond was not really consistent enough to be a real Backup searcher because of the curve and smaller volume of Backups.
Opus 14 Chiba – 19 Backups
By the time Chiba had come around to the idea and events were happening again I had come around to the idea that Shantotto simply doesn’t count as a Backup, because you aren’t guaranteed to be able to put it down during the small setup phase in the game, and this was the first major breakthrough I had made on Monks’ economy. However, there were still major issues with this list; look no further than the rest of the Backups. Treating Shantotto as a non-Backup and assuming that we are not very happy with our first Backup being Enna Kros or Tyro, there were only 11 Backups that could be comfortably played out on turn 1. This is simply not enough to guarantee a good curve, and given we only have a few turns max to set up comfortably, a good curve is the most important thing we could have.
Opus 14 Saitama – 19 Backups
The problems stated above are how we land at this lineup, a 19 Backup deck 14 of which can be played comfortably on turn 1. As you can plainly see, the price we paid for this lineup was that we don’t get to play Tyro, and as a result it’s more difficult for us to find the colors required to cast Sarah (MOBIUS), and to a lesser extent Sophie and Regis. What we gained, however, was the speed required to get in a decent economy setup (about 3 Backups) in the considerably shorter setup stage of the game, while retaining 3 copies of Shantotto, the strongest answer to aggro decks in the game.
So to recap, here are the four questions I think you should ask yourself when designing Backup lineups for decks in the modern age:
- How long is the ‘setup phase’ (in which you’re allowed to comfortably play Backups)?
- How much non-Backup economy do I have?
- How many of my Backups need to be playable on turn 1?
- Do I run any Backups that don’t really count as Backups?
- Shantotto and other similarly conditional Backups don’t really count as Backups, period.
While this is definitely not an exact science and I’m sure there is much more to be explored and expanded upon in this space, I hope that this gives those struggling in an aggro world the framework to build more-or-less ‘normal’ decks. More than anything, I hope that this gave some hope to my fellow Backup gamers. If you enjoyed the article let me know what you think in the comments on social media. Until next time.