Special thanks to my testing partner Nathan for helping me test Opus 13 thus far, I know your priorities have been elsewhere so I especially appreciate you making the time! I don’t think I’d ever make it as far as I do without our testing sessions.
I’d also like to wish FFTCGCrystariums carry Jeff “Winley” Curran a massive congratulations for his fantastic performance at the event! Team Flat Earth with two semifinalists in a 96 player global tournament, just awesome I couldn’t be prouder fam!
Zanarkand was a huge tournament with a staggering player count and a real test of endurance for everyone involved, coming in at 13+ hours for finalists and staff. But since there wasn’t a Worlds slot on the line, I didn’t feel I needed to be playing the strongest deck out of the gate to aim for first place. If I did I probably would have been on Earth/Water Sophie and if I was feeling particularly masochistic it would have been Samurais.
A little bit about Manikins
I wanted to push something that wasn’t so obviously competitive and showcase what it can do. It was offbeat enough to catch people off guard and it has some very potent openings, often ending turn 3 on 4 backups with Exdeath and 1 or 2 Delusory Knights on field getting ready to pressure your opponent while they’re still setting up.
Since the gameplan for Manikins is to setup to 4 backups quickly while applying pressure, it only makes sense to continue that pressure. Exdeath is typically at minimum 13k and not only is that hard to answer, he often just swings over anything your opponent can put down with ease providing a constant source of damage pressure, similar to how Tenzen did in Opus 12. Delusory Knights with Exdeath come in at a healthy 9k power so typically threaten to trade for something on field at worst and with an ever-present giant Exdeath, Hecatoncheir is a great piece to blow people out with should they attempt anything particularly tricky, or alternatively answer a problem on field.
Counterfeit Youth provides great options for you to close a game in the later stages following a Shantotto or Philia sweep (hell even your own Shantotto), or if your board is answered by things like Aldore Emperor and other high costed forwards. So with that core gameplan in mind of big dudes doing damage pressure, the best way to keep that pressure, or allow you to close the game is with removal forwards like Counterfeit Wraith, Jake, Kuja and Lightning. Lightning in particular says your opponent is dead right now an unreasonable amount of the time. Imaginary Soldier was primarily played to answer Earth/Water Sophie decks, as hitting 5k+ is easily achievable and answers cards like Nichol with ease keeping their numbers down and your own pressure up but he also allows your Wraith and Gabranths to trade up while dropping a ~10k on the field so all in all, not a bad include.
Notes on the decks consistency
If you opt not to play Imaginary Soldier, you can play Selkie to search for your Delusory Knight early and it’s a great boon for the deck. The deck as a whole can be particularly inconsistent in a small number of games and most of my work on this deck was to mitigate those games and at this point I’d call it a success. On the other hand though it makes up for those fringe bad early openers by having a 2/9 card search chain that sets you up for the entire game. This makes the deck incredibly consistent on the whole.
I’ve been called a lucker more times than I can count for playing this and opening the same every game, but it’s incredibly reliable to end up with the exact same board setup each and every game. For you to setup to 4 backups almost on demand you only need to see 2 of 9 cards in your opening few turns. These combinations are Lady of Antiquity+Delusory Warlock. Lady of Antiquity+Delusory Knight. Delusory Knight+Delusory Warlock. Even 2 Delusory Warlocks works (and never be concerned about overpaying for warlock on turn 1).
Your goal is to have Lady of Antiquity on the field so that you can search between Warlock and Knight back and forth until you’re at 4 backups, throwing Exdeath into the mix if you happen to draw him until your backup line is Lady of Antiquity and any 3 other backups (most likely Warlocks). The deck plays very well off of 4 backups so I’ve seen the most success not playing the 5th backup until I know for sure I’m never going to Shantotto in the matchup, or saving the open slot for when I know I’ll need to Shantotto.
So if we only want to play 2 of our backups to the field why the other backups? Well it’s not so easy to just draw the 2/9 cards every time, or have colours that aren’t awkward in the opening turns for a deck like this and you absolutely want to have backups down, so you can’t run the risk of just not running them. For that reason, our other backups are ones that show us the most cards, allowing us to trade a card in hand for one off the top. This helps cycle out dead colours in hand (like our off-colour Manikins) for one more usable right now, or potentially one of our key setup cards. Suzuhisa follows the same logic and fits in the curve very nicely when we have 2 backups and want to play a Delusory Warlock off curve or letting us replenish resources without committing further to the field while we’re ahead.
All in all, Manikins performed better than I expected, only dropping a game in swiss to the winner and then being knocked out by the same in the semis. If it weren’t for the seemingly impossible matchup in Dragodishiv’s monks, I stood a very real chance of taking out the tournament. All credit where it’s due, Dragodishiv did a great job of blindsiding everyone with a well refined monks list.
Mono Earth Monks w/ Sophie. A great list and fantastic call for the tournament, one that potentially dodges all of the tech for the Earth/Water Sophie lists we were expecting and I suspect going by results, a healthy Samurai matchup. Interestingly it doesn’t have a good matchup versus Earth/Water Sophie but ultimately that didn’t matter for the tournament.
Ice/Wind by FrancisFF and Cleverboy. There’s a lot here that looks like it shouldn’t work on paper, but major props to these guys for working with this archetype and seeing a road for Locke in the Opus 13 meta, some very explosive turns come out of these unassuming cards and I’m glad to see Locke has a new home in Opus 13!
Water/Lightning FFT w/ Famfrits. Great list, fantastic synergies and very well thought out and refined by the looks of things. LukeFFTCG put on a real show in the games I caught of it on stream. Really happy to see it do well! I’m personally most excited to play this list after the event.
Fire/Lightning, particularly Fire/Lightning doing as well as it did. When your card quality is that high, perhaps one or two EXbursts are exactly unfair enough to do well. I appreciate Yehoseras take on the list really pushing the card quality by running 13 backups. I’ll at least never forget the time he beat me by playing Belias 3 times for Terra pings in response to my removal and lethal during the lead up to Zanarkand.
What we were expecting that didn’t show up
Earth/Water Sophie lists. It’s the new hotness and we worked it out fairly early into the set and also saw a lot of variants around so when building for Zanarkand we were mostly building around a meta we expected to revolve around Sophie and Samurais. Maybe everyone had the same mindset for Sophie, maybe people hadn’t figured it out yet and weren’t comfortable with the list into an unknown meta – in either case, it wasn’t showing up nearly as much as we expected. I only caught Sascha on a 3 colour version in swiss, while no Earth/Water lists made it to top cut.
I know a lot of people were still hype on how busted Neo Exdeath is, but I only caught one in swiss and a little tech in Exodus and Counterfeit Wraith took care of it without much issue. Keep me in the camp of non-believers.
Fire/Wind FFTA got some nice new tools this set and Ritz lists have always been popular, so not seeing it represented much was somewhat surprising. Although I do kind of agree with it not looking particularly busted right now.
Opus 13 Standout cards thus far
Palom with Leonora is a great cross-element backup duo, but also in particular Palom shines with Magissa. Turn 1 Magissa+Palom into Alphinaud (or Alisaie+Alphinaud if you’re a true high-roller) searching for any 3cp backup you want (likely Irvine for more Magissa nonsense the following turn) is the strongest turn 1 play there is. Followed probably only by Tenzen or an unanswerable Neo Exdeath.
Shara and Llednar are great additions to make Fire/Wind Ritz lists look appealing again, there’s still some awkwardness in that you need to be running Meeth to find your Ritz with any reliability and dedicating more slots in a deck particularly to Ritz really compounds that, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing with the new card offerings. Llednar and Philia are a particularly nice synergy point for the deck. We can get a bit cute with Althea and Larkeicus to handle problem cards too.
Jake, Lightning, Rapha – Great removal and flexibility for any list they fit in. Jake is an all-star in any deck that can reliably pay 3 colours for him, and discarding the 3rd colour from hand to effectively make him a 4CP 7k do 9k is still great most of the time, 9k is a particularly relevant number in the meta right now. Lightning is incredibly flexible and can do a lot of varied things for different lists. A lot of the time Lightning says your opponent is dead on field if they’re not answering your boards. Other times she is a welcome bit of recursion in slower paced games and sometimes she’s a lot of combinations in between – highly recommended. Rapha+Fina are a great pair out of the gate, and there’s a lot of ways to get creative with Rapha elsewhere, definitely a backup to keep an eye on.
Sara – Norschtalen 2.0 with good options for every element. With the added benefit of being able to automatically fix for a 3rd colour splash in Princess Sarah without any additional commitment. Absolutely stellar backup.
Agrias, Ovelia and Simon. Agrias is a great card with either Ovelia, I think most lists have gravitated to the 2CP Ovelia by now. But with the right amount of forcing, high entry value forwards and Tactics characters the new Ovelia is a real force, not just in terms of value but the S is a great blowout in the right circumstances, Simon rounds out the package nicely by showing us a breakable backup that we actually want to play for a change.
Sophie, Sarah (MOBIUS) and Nichol. While not always coming together, they do so fantastically in one of the stronger new decks for Opus 13. Opus 13 has brought us quite a few 2CP dual element cards that look appealing which is a welcome change from Opus 12. These two in particular look to be the beginnings of a really powerful archetype, and Nichol adds a persistent value threat to lists with them. Time will tell how well it lasts, but out of the gate of Opus 13 it’s looking very strong and something to be well aware of.
Aldore Emperor and Golbez – When we’re not unhappy to play a card before it hits it’s peak damage threshold, there’s only upside to playing it. Aldore is a fantastic removal/tempo piece in an element combination that has otherwise been a bit lacking. While Golbez is a fantastic setup piece in an element combination that has also been lacking for a while now. Whether their best home ends up being in their respective elements or as splashes elsewhere to enable other things, both look to be providing brand new tools for us to toy with. Look forward to seeing where these two land and how they evolve over the set and in the future.
Honorable mentions: They’re Opus 12.5 but still have a large enough impact to mention, especially if you skipped out on playing much of the 12.5 meta. Philia and Ran’jit were both fantastic additions to fire lists and sometimes even Philia makes a healthy splash in earth decks as a secondary sweeper after Shantotto
Hopefully that provides a little insight into my approach to Zanarkand Cup, Manikins and Opus XIII thus far. Looking forward to how things shape up during the League of Light throughout this Opus!