Hey, it’s been a while.
If you’re like me, and you’re a cultured card gamer that likes not only dealing damage, but also attacking your opponent’s hand (and will to live,) you’ve probably played a discard-heavy deck at some point in the past. People have accused me of writing about Ice cards an excessive amount in the past, and today is going to be no different. Today we’re going to look at one of my favourite tactics, and how to wring the maximum value out of each card that you discard from your opponent.
Finding High-Impact Situations
I’ve been playing discard for a while, and I’ve found that over time you will get better at judging the best opportunities to really dismantle your opponent’s hand and have the highest impact on the game. Common sense dictates that you want to discard as much as possible, as early as possible so that the opponent doesn’t get to play the game at all, and you flat out win the game decisively by turn four. If FFTCG was a game where we draw one card a turn, I’d probably be in this camp, but it’s very easy for your opponent to just weather the discard and continue setting up, while you gradually run out of steam. Depending on what deck you’re facing, you want your opponent to go some length to do some of the discarding for you. A lot of decks run backups that search backups for consistent opens, and in cases like these the backups often cost 4-5 (if we look at Norschtalen and Star Sibyl as the most common examples) – if you see a Norschtalen or Star Sibyl come down early game, you know your opponent in the vast majority of cases is going to search for another backup, and if you discard at this point, you’ve allowed them to accrue a backup, but you’ve taken away both the value from it and the follow-up play. This can also go for cards that get searched for that allow players to recur cards they have pitched early for CP but obviously want to re-use – if you see someone search out an Aerith and they’re obviously planning on using that the next turn to pick up a couple of cards to extend their boardstate, by all means focus on discarding that Aerith to really put a damper on their next couple of turns. If you’re using discard to not only perform the base function of reducing the amount of options and CP a player has access to but also are forcing them to topdeck and improvise, this will get you a lot of extra mileage and can force some decks to simply fall apart. Sniping to dismantle early gameplans can be done a lot earlier with the ever-present Zidane from Opus 3, as he allows you the added bonus of looking at your opponent’s hand at the same time so you often won’t need follow-up discard to ruin your opponent’s next turn. He’s especially good at taking out cards that have been searched for, provided your opponent doesn’t immediately play them. Once you start comboing him with Tidus/Miounne to do this repeatedly in Wi/Wa, it can get very unfair very quickly.
Another way to spot high impact situations is to watch for your opponent overextending. It’s reasonably easy, especially early to mid game, to spot when an opponent is going to try and have a turn where they extend their amount of forwards on the field while playing an extra backup on curve, which will probably leave them 1-3 cards in hand unless they have an overabundance of resources already. If you hit them with a strong discard at this point, the amount of cards they have in hand to choose from is narrower than it would be extremely early game, and is likely to wound them a lot more than just mindlessly playing discard to the field as you draw it would.
You can also create high impact situations to trap your opponent to going to a small hand size by committing annoying cards that absolutely must die to the field yourself, usually cards with strong attack triggers like Locke, Cloud of Darkness, Genesis, or Lasswell that get more value the longer they are allowed to stay on the field. Garland (IX) is also astounding for this, especially if coupled with Scale Toad. If your opponent dedicates resources to removing these from the field, they’re effectively doing a lot of your job for you, and you can just remove the remaining few cards from their hands with a well timed Sephiroth, Flan, or Serah. If you follow up with a Cid Aulstyne to neutralize the threat that they used to deal with your earlier commit, the game’s probably swung pretty far ahead in your favour. This is especially true if you’re still holding cards or have more Flans ready to go. Forcing high impact situations is also considerably easier with cards like Scale Toad, who backs up your normal lines of discard as a reasonably non-interactable threat who warps all of your opponent’s choices for the rest of the game. If you can get your opponent to the mindset of “I may as well play all my cards to the field, because I’m going to lose them anyway” then their plays are going to degrade in quality pretty quickly while you continue to accrue advantage.
DEHUMANIZE YOURSELF AND FACE TO DISCARD
A really big part of getting the most out of cards that discard is doing it at the worst possible moment for your opponent. I don’t mean discarding their important cards to deny them important plays as I’ve mentioned previously, I mean putting down your strongest discards at points that make the game seem completely hopeless. As horrendous as it sounds, if you can make your opponent begin to give up on the game, the last few turns are going to be a lot easier. A prime example of this is seeing people throw Sephiroth to the field and immediately Shadow Flare stacked with the ETB – I don’t think this is ever the correct play. If you Shadow Flare, your opponent knows they’re probably losing everything in their hand so they may as well play out what they’re holding. If this is an Ifrit to one-shot your Sephiroth, it’s not exactly the best trade for you. Even though you’ve emptied their hand in this scenario, you can definitely push more value. If you play Sephiroth to the field, let the ETB go off, and let your opponent deliberate on what they are doing to discard in this situation, it has alternative outcomes that will benefit you vs just stacking the Shadow Flare to the ETB, even though at a cursory look it appears the same.
In this situation, let’s say the opponent has 4 cards in hand. One of these is an Ifrit which will blow up our Sephiroth, hitting him for the full 8k if they decide to play it. We play Sephiroth to the field, and the opponent now has to discard 2.
From this, our opponent can:
- Discard 2 cards, holding onto the Ifrit, so they can later get Sephiroth in a positive trade when he eventually goes to combat, and they block and blow up something else we have.
- Play the Ifrit, and have to discard 2 cards anyway (on top of the CP paid for Ifrit) – this would leave them on one in hand if they paid for the Ifrit entirely off of backups, or on no cards in hand if they paid for the Ifrit with any cards from hand (CP investment + 2 card discard from Sephiroth)
If the opponent goes with scenario 1, we can safely follow up with a Shadow Flare and they have no way to play the Ifrit (assuming no backups) – this leaves us better off than the Sephiroth ETB + Shadow Flare stack as we still have a Sephiroth on the field ready to start dulling and freezing cards next turn. If the opponent goes with scenario 2, we effectively still Shadow Flared them, but have a follow up Sephiroth in hand for next turn to really break the back of their deck. By holding off on that Shadow Flare until we know we have to do it or not, we’ve left our opponent with two pretty rubbish options to make, even if one of them doesn’t appear that bad at the time. Even if we swap Ifrit for Amaterasu in this scenario, option 2 still leaves them cards down in their hand, and us with a Sephiroth ready for next turn.
Be warned, playing like this will really annoy your opponent and can lead to some really curt interactions, especially in a competitive environment, but it’s a legitimate way to play and a good way to bait out your opponent’s responses while also diminishing the amount of responses they have overall. This rule also applies to using things like Devout Rinoa to flicker a discard card on stack, just don’t do it unless your opponent is targeting removal at your forward anyway. This doesn’t just apply to Sephiroth; by pacing your discard and letting your opponent feel the weight of their choices with each discard, and then negating that choice by discarding the other card anyway, you’ll really get the advantage quickly and have a very high chance of putting your opponent on tilt. Tilted players make mistakes, and mistakes cost games. Cards like Genesis and Flan combined with Scale Toad can also help with this line of play, by having the threat on the field and not pulling the trigger you can really see your opponents make some odd mistakes or misplays that they normally wouldn’t make as they’re too focused on when you’re going to rip the last card from their hand.
You’ll get opponents try to predict when you’re going to discard by often just doing it for you (as in, assuming you always want to keep them at zero, seeing you have a Flan out/a Sephiroth available, discarding their hand and then saying what you were ‘obviously’ going to do) – if this happens it’s probably best to call a judge to quell any eventual dispute. The ultimate evil, maximum tilt-inducing play to do here is to not do that thing, do something else, and then do that thing anyway. Don’t be baited when playing discard, if you are not in full control of when you are doing your discards, you aren’t utilising discard effectively enough.
As I mentioned previously, going for discards at the most impactful time will get you so much extra value, especially when you can disrupt plays with instant speed discard on your opponent’s turn. If you’ve caught your opponent setting up a high value Regis, go ahead and disrupt it with Glasya Labolas once they’ve played down to Regis being their only card in hand. This goes doubly if you ever see anyone activate Star Sibyl – if you can make them lose a backup for no reason when they had planned to gain a sizeable advantage off of it… well you’re not going to be making any friends, but there’s a high chance you’re a lot closer to winning the game.
Leaving threats extremely visible and ‘predictable’ is key to utilising prolonged discard effectively – if your opponent is always trying to guess when you are going to make your moves, then your discard effects are getting value even when they’re not doing anything. This is a tip that goes mainly for flans, but if you leave 3 Flans just sat on the field chilling while you continue to throw down forwards that need to be dealt with, your opponent will likely think twice about dropping that Shantotto that stabilises the game for them. Much like Amaterasu, Mist Dragon, and Edward, the best Flans are the Flans you never have to actually use.
You’re probably going to get a lot of mud slung at you by people for playing discard, usually with the word “dishonourable” attached, but don’t take it to heart – it’s a part of the game and they’re probably just frustrated. While that round timer is running, do what you have to do with what you have to win the game (don’t cheat, of course) and remember that even in a non-discard oriented game, only one person gets to win. Try and make sure it’s you!
I’d also like to take a look at things people do wrong with discard heavy decks, and the first one is something that has stuck with me since I picked up Ice in Opus III – I was asked when I mentioned I had built an Ice deck was “have you gone the dull/freeze route, or the discard route? There’s two sides to it” and that’s something I don’t agree with. Discard isn’t inherently really strong on its own in FFTCG, outside of Turbo Discard, as if you discard your opponent to 0, or they have a deck that can basically just ignore having its hand attacked, all your cards are blank. That is to say, if you have already taken your opponent to 0 cards in hand, or they’re able to constantly maintain 3-4+ cards in hand, and you have a deck full of cards that say discard on them, you are basically playing a deck full of Black Belts, which doesn’t fly so well. It’s important to have a backup plan for your deck, ideally one that complements it when everything is going to plan. Discard can be a very all-in playstyle, but I personally don’t think it works as a standalone deck archetype without Thaumaturge and Gesper.
Another common mistake I see is people going in way too early with extremely heavy discard, and in some cases this can work, but the days of Turbo Discard are dead and gone – ideally you don’t want to be dropping Sephiroth & Shadow Flare turn 2 unless your opponent has opened really, astoundingly badly and isn’t likely to draw into answers before you win the game. If your opponent has opened badly, and you discard all their cards, they’re just going to start drawing into your power cards and if they clear your early investments, you’re toast. If your opponent opens badly, and you discard all those cards, you’re basically just discarding their bad cards as opposed to their high quality cards (which are what you really want to target). Try not to spam discard too furiously, and look for the points where it will hurt your opponent’s ability to play the most. Watch what they discard and try and predict what’s in hand once you’ve seen cards off of reveals and searches.
The final mistake I’d like to touch on is not setting resource traps with cards like Cloud of Darkness and Garland (IX) – these cards complement discarding as much as possible while making your opponent make as many wrong decisions as possible, as you’re transferring a lot of the choices on what to dull and freeze over to them. While you deny these resources, and also attack their hand, the choices of what resources to lose will get narrower and narrower, and lead to more desperate plays. These cards have hidden and far-reaching effects on games well outside of their card texts, and making your opponent freeze a backup that they may think inconsequential for the following turns may leave them unable to pay for a certain colour, or leave something in their hand ripe for your discard next turn. With Cloud of Darkness, the real focus becomes how many backups your opponent has available at any one time and the cards in hand become secondary, and this will really put a strangle on your opponent as they’ll be forced to discard cards from their hands to pay for things, basically doing your job for you.
Ice may be the butt of a lot of meta jokes at the moment, but I wouldn’t write discard off as a mechanic just yet. Cards in hand are always going to be a thing people need in this game, and being able to directly attack and influence that is timeless.
Discard in itself isn’t just discarding a card from your opponent’s hand, it’s diminishing their ability to play, affecting their future turns as well as their ability to make the correct decision.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I hope you’re all staying safe, and hopefully the tactics in this article don’t cause you to ruin too many friendships with your shiny new Sephiroth full arts from the Boss Deck.
Hopefully see you guys at an event soon,