Howdy folks, and welcome to the Crystarium! I’ve been watching a lot of chess videos lately, even though I don’t play, and there was something I kept seeing that impressed me. Not only for its usage in chess, but also in how clear it was that it’s something many skilled FFTCG players do without even realizing it. It’s called the Waiting Move. It’s a way to mitigate risk, and to gain information, while slowly improving your position. So I’ve been obsessed with this tactic for a while, thinking about all the different Waiting Moves that I and many others play, and wanted to present the fruits of my thoughts. For many, this will be a familiar walk in the park for normal, everyday gameplay, but for many I hope this helps to avoid walking face first into crushing EX Bursts, or colossal Shantottos.
So what exactly is a Waiting Move in chess? And don’t worry, you won’t need an extensive understanding of that game to grasp it. A Waiting Move comes, usually early game but not always, when you want to get more information about what your opponent is doing, or force them to commit to a strategy before you do. It often includes some small method of improving your position, while still keeping all of your resources flexible and able to react to whatever comes your way. This usually takes the form of a simple move like castling, moving a bishop up one rank so that you can castle, moving a pawn from a square your knight might want, or to protect a square where you might plant your knight. A late game waiting move might be to move one of the pawns protecting your king up one square (called creating luft) so that an errant rook can’t effortlessly checkmate you. These are all good moves to make, but the real power in them is that they don’t really commit you to a given tactic. You remain flexible, able to react. You make your opponent take the initiative, so that you may better understand what their short and long term plans are before you decide on your own.
I’ve played a lot of Guardians since the X starter released, and that deck is chock full of Waiting Moves. It wants to have a critical turn where it plays Wakka>Yuna>Auron>Tidus>Jecht>Tidus (having bounced Tidus with Althea, Chocobo, or Jecht) ending the turn with six counters on Wakka and a Jecht Block in hand. That’s a tall order, and it takes some set up. Luckily, the deck loves taking its time to set up. It has many strong Bursts that help assemble its pieces, and it really wants to be on Damage 3 or 5, so a slow open is A-OK. Sometimes you need one more turn to really drop the hammer, and there are a few good plays you can make in that time. Auron costs very little, and if he dies, well, you want him in your BZ anyways for Yuna to fetch. Rikku is a card you don’t really care very much about, but she demands an answer, as her attack trigger is crushing. Either of these can be played while setting up, as if they die, you’re pretty ok with that, and any removal they can absorb makes your following plays much stronger. Once you do assemble the team, Jecht and Auron keep you safe from pretty much anything your opponent can do, so at this point the biggest threat you face is EX Bursts. Jecht cannot stop Bursts, so sometimes, even when you have the win on the table, you need to Wait.
Waiting in the face of EX can be one of the hardest things to train yourself to do. You have to ask yourself “does my opponent have a Burst that wins them the game?” Can Tyro or Cu Sith get them a Primal Titan? If Elbis kills one of my attackers, will my opponent survive this attack phase? Will Leviathan get rid of two of my Forwards? Will drawing a card mean they can use one of their action abilities, or pay for a Summon in their hand? If this attack phase doesn’t kill them, do they have a powerful Damage 5 or Damage 6? Often times we need to be extremely patient with our attacks. If we look at the Earth Lightning deck Ryan Chen won Reraise Pennsylvania with, we can see a couple of cards that really play towards this aspect: Robel-Akbel and Exdeath. These both have extremely powerful effects that happen every turn, and Ryan can wait and wait while these build him up and tear his opponent down. With cards like these, you can wait until the game is absolutely in bag before you actually commit to winning it. Knowing when to play it safe, and when to press an advantage is a crucial skill to develop.
But Waiting Moves aren’t just for slower decks! In FFTCG, we talk often about overcommitting. This happens when you play out more Forwards than you really need, and then lose everything to a sweeper like Susano. While some decks are built around overcommitting, those usually have some sort of safeguard, like Amaterasu, Sin, Althea, or Jecht Block. Many aggressive decks need to carefully balance how many Forwards they play. Too few and they can be handled with point removal. Too many and they lose huge chunks of CP to Primal Titan. You want to present enough threats that you can kill them before they stabilize, but hold back enough so that you can keep applying pressure after a sweeper. If you’ve ever cleared someone’s board while they have five cards in hand, you know next turn is going to be rough for you. So if you’re baiting out a Totto, it often pays to spend your main phases just playing a Backup, especially one like Diana or Kolka who feed you more Forwards. Maybe you just play out a 2CP Forward so that you don’t have to discard at end of turn. If you’re almost certain a sweeper is coming, maybe you DO just discard for turn, as anything you play would cost more and be as helpful.
On the other side of the coin, the player with the Shantotto can also benefit from a Waiting Move. If you are low on damage, and your opponent has a lot of cards in hand, maybe you wait on that sweeper for one more turn and force them to play out more Forwards to eat. You can drop a big wall that they need more power to get around. You can bounce or freeze their Forwards. You can use spot removal to leave them with too few Forwards to really pressure you. The longer you can hold back your sweeper, the stronger it will be. By presenting these smaller obstacles that the aggressive player must overcome, you slowly whittle away their resources, until you can take the rest of them away in one fell swoop. Just make sure you’re not going to die to haste.
The Waiting Move is such a powerful tool to have in your arsenal that it even got a card banned. Rikku, who was a long term staple of many Wind/X decks, gave you a way to use your CP every turn without actually doing anything. In an era where midrange strategies didn’t want to be the first to play a Forward, where the first person to blink lost, Rikku provided a strong way to… well… Wait. Oftentimes she was paired with another one of the best Waiting Moves in the game: Luminous Puma. Puma may lose a sizeable chunk of CP in the long run, but in the mid to late game it lets you spend your whole turn and make use of all five of your Backups just improving your position, banking your CP for a future turn. Once Famfrit was printed, another card that strongly encourages waiting moves, the devs decided it was time for Rikku to go. Jared Wallace had popularized a deck with very few Forwards in it, content to just wipe the board turn after turn after turn while Rikku ran roughshod over their deck size. A deck that was absolutely miserable to play against, and that stood in defiance of the devs’ vision of a combat-centric, character based TCG.
So with all this in mind, I hope I’ve impressed upon you all the virtues of patience. There are so many points in a game where taking your time can really reward you. While I love being the guy who shoves his big pile of chips into the table shouting “all in!” even I am careful to consider how a more calculated approach may be a safer bet. And if I can do it, you can do it! At any rate, thank you so much for spending your quality time with me today, listening to me drone on about chess moves. I think there are lots of things to be learned from outside of FFTCG, so it pays to think about the lessons another game teaches you, and how that can be applied to Final Fantasy. If you’ve gotten some epiphany from another game, I’d love to hear about it over on Twitter. And as always, I look forward to seeing you again, here at the Crystarium!