Howdy, folks, and welcome to The Crystarium! After about a year, we finally had a major recently: the expertly ran Zanarkand Open. After so long, we finally had the opportunity to really engage in some strong competition. After seven rounds of Swiss and a cut to Top 16, we were left with an extremely robust variety of decks to pore over as we continue moving into the League of Light, the RVA Centennial, and the Opus 13 meta at large. Moving into the Zanarkand Open with all these exciting new decks, new strategies, and new interactions to explore, I made the decision to stick with a deck I’ve been grinding out for the last several months: Samurais. I felt, against an unknown meta and with many people trying out unproven archetypes, my best bet in navigating Zanarkand was to play a deck I knew like the back of my hand. Turns out that was a pretty dang good idea, as I tore through the Swiss to enter Top Cut completely undefeated, where I made it to the Semis before being locked out of Finals and claimed a 3rd place finish. Today I wanted to briefly discuss why I felt running Sams was a strong decision, and talk at length about the deck itself.

The Zanarkand Open was a grueling tournament. Seven rounds of Swiss followed by four rounds of Top Cut. It started at a reasonable 10AM my time (Seattle) which I knew I could turn into a real advantage. East Coasters started their 12hour+ event at 1PM, meaning by top cut, people who weren’t used to staying up late would not only be feeling the grind of such a long event, but also the drain of sleeplessness. For our international compatriots, this tournament was likely to be incredibly brutal in regards to their sleep schedules. Now, the Top 4 did end up having three representatives from outside NA: The Crystarium’s own Robert Meadows, FrancisFF, and ultimate victor Dragodishiv, so this wasn’t an overwhelming advantage, but in talking to all three of them during our matches it was clear they were much more exhausted than I was by the end of things.

To double up on this mental taxation tactic, I elected to bring a deck I am incredibly comfortable with, that for the most part has relatively simple lines. Sams can do some tricky things with summon speed Magissa triggers or with cute tech like Phoenix, but for the most part it’s relatively straightforward. I assembled lots of snacks ahead of time and made sure no one would bother me during the tournament so that I would have to think as little as possible throughout the day. Hungry? There’s food right there. No need to think “what should I eat?” This let me put all of my brainpower for the day into navigating tricky situations in game. By limiting the decisions I had to think about in my own play, as well as throughout the day in general, I would minimize “Decision Fatigue,” where my brain is just tired of thinking about things. Even in my tenth round, because I had cared for my mental state, I was feeling relatively fresh and sharp.

The last thing that made me want to bring Sams was its reliability. The decklist is extremely polished. The only new cards are Palom and Xande, both of whom are clearly very strong in the deck, and don’t do anything “new.” It’s a tested and proven archetype that only got stronger in Opus 13, both with new cards and with Sophie decks applying pressure to Storm players, one of Sams’ most stable opponents. I (correctly) assumed lots of people would be on new decks they were excited about, decks still featuring rough edges and unpolished tech. Decks that don’t have the consistency and reliability to deal with the pressure of a t1 Tenzen/Magissa. To echo a sentiment from eureka, Sams acts as a “you must be this tall to ride” for the format. If you want your deck to be successful, it has to be able to reliably deal with Sams’ savage openings. A lot of deckbuilding early in a format is hyperfixated on getting the most out of their synergies, and concern over what other people are playing tends to come with further refinements. This meant very few people were building with early game answers in mind.

Ultimately though, these all were just perks. I very likely would have brought Sams even without those advantages; I just love the deck. I love a very proactive playstyle, dropping threat after threat with Amaterasu as an insurance policy, forcing the opponent to be the one to react to me. This type of strategy is what I’m best at playing, and it’s what resonates best with me. It’s important to identify the kinds of decks that appeal to you, that you synergize well with, and Sams moreso than any other deck so far speaks to me on a deep level. You just drop your BIG DUMB ASSHOLES and you just PUSH BIG FIST IN BAD GUY FACE WHAM PUNCH KILL UNGA BUNGA BIG HIMBO ENERGY! Perfection.

Time to actually start talking about the deck:

This is a pretty stock list aside from my pet card Ninja. I leaned a little towards NXD safety, as you’ll see with the Philia, Bahamut, and Cloud, but for the most part this is the standard core of Samurais, although I believe 16 Backups has traditionally been the popular choice.

So what makes Sams good? If you’re unfamiliar with the deck, it has two different goals it can aim for on turn one: Tenzen; and pairing Magissa with a source of damage. Each of these provides a powerful board that will continue to build advantage the longer they’re left unchecked. By drawing a card each turn, Tenzen gives back the same CP as playing two Backups. It does this while applying pressure and providing a strong defensive wall against rival early aggression. You have just enough CP on turn 1 to pitch two for Cyan to fetch out Tenzen and then pitch three for him, which means in the top eleven cards (mulligan plus t1 draw) you have six cards that enable this start. Brief aside for math: taking a hypergeometric calculator and inputting 6 successes out of a sample of 11 in a population of 50 gives us a whopping 79% chance for the t1 Tenzen. So what do we do in the last 1 out of 5 games? That’s where Magissa comes in.

I run ten ways to hit Magissa on turn 1. Statistically speaking, a little over half the games you don’t see Tenzen or Cyan, you should see a Magissa, and with ten activators she’s pretty reliable as a backup plan. Alphinaud is the go-to Magissa search on turn 1. The only reason you wouldn’t fetch Alphinaud here is if you already have an Alph in hand, in which case you grab Alisaie and absolutely snowball the opponent. Maggie/Alis/Alph is the strongest potential opener we have, and should always take priority over Tenzen, and depending on the matchup and meta even Maggie/Alph can be the better play. Half the time, you won’t have the luxury of knowing what your opponent is on, so you have to decide based on your hand whether Alph is fetching Tenzen or Irvine. If you got your Maggie activation from Ifrit and not a Backup, Palom should replace Irvine in the decision. Tenzen gets you your other primary gameplan, while Irvine/Palom doubles up on the gameplan you’re already invested in. There are merits to either choice, but I’ll say I typically go for the greedy Irvine unless I really think the opponent is likely to gain access to a punish.

These opens create an absurd amount of pressure.

Tenzen completely dominates the board, hitting every turn and threatening to block as well. Magissa opens mean we’re attacking for two or more starting on turn 2. This immediate early aggression is something that, while not new to FFTCG, has been extremely uncommon. I could probably count on one hand how many different hard aggro archetypes have topped a Major before Sams hit the scene. This isn’t to say people are unfamiliar with someone just dropping Forwards on t1, sometimes your hand is unplayable and it’s the only option; but decks that are dedicated to doing it, like the All In Vaan from Japan in Opus X, are something most people haven’t had to practice against in the past. With so many people just getting back into the game after locals being shuttered for over a year, these starts are unfamiliar territory for many. Oftentimes, seeing themselves at Damage 3 or worse before the start of their third turn will seriously demoralize them. If you can convince an opponent they’ve already lost, they’ll go out of their way to prove themselves correct. The game is certainly getting faster, and the tools are there now in Opus 13 to handle these quick starts, and as the meta evolves I think Sams will have to adapt or die; for now, at least, Sams is the absolute king of the early game.

Once you’ve got your board established, you’ve got two options for how to proceed: you can keep heaping on the pressure, committing body after body to the board in an attempt to stick as much player damage as possible; alternatively, and more likely if your open left you with very few cards in hand, is to focus on replenishing your resources, using your existing Forwards to swing out while you develop your backline, relying on your Tenzen or Magissa to keep stocking your hand. Deciding on which of these to pursue comes down to the matchup, and will require knowledge of your opponent and what they’re capable of putting in your way, although sometimes your hand won’t give you a choice on the matter and shoehorn you into one way or the other.

You may be asking, if Sams owns the first few turns, what happens when the opponent stabilizes? A lot of games, we’ll be able to ride the dominating early presence into a victory, but what do we do once our onslaught is halted? We have several potential routes to take in the mid-late game, and I think this is where the deck is finally able to showcase player skill. The early turns are extremely formulaic, but it’s actually closing out the game versus a tough adversary that takes some experience. The most common way to take back advantage is to build a powerful board clear with Cyan, typically by developing Samurai Backups. Iroha can add a ton of damage to this out of nowhere. You’ll usually want to stick a different samurai Forward the turn before, and then drop the Cyan in MP1 so the opponent has only a small window to react. Cyan plus Belias can do it out of nowhere. If your opponent is having trouble interacting with your Forwards, getting a 2x Samurai party attack with Cyan should clear all but the most stubborn of fields. The CP swing from a brutal Cyan cleave is often enough for a decisive victory.

The next avenues tend to be less impactful, but sometimes all we need is a little push to turn the tide.

We can stick a Magissa, pull out Forza, and kill something. This one is much more situational; we need CP for a Maggie and a source of 4k, and the thing we want to kill needs to be 7k or less (caveats if we have Iroha or our Maggie enabler is Blaze.) Try to get a read on them having an answer to Maggie in hand, to avoid overcommitting into an Alexander, a Famfrit, or a Pandemonium (against a Xande burn.)

Landing an Alisaie into Alphinaud from hand puts down a quick field of cheap attackers.
The haste from Belias may let us change combat math and punch through for lethal.
If the opponent is on 5 damage (a risky amount in this meta) we can Ifrit Terra Ifrit.

Sometimes we can make some unholy amalgamation of cards like an Iroha boosted Blaze, a wee Ifrit, and a Samurai 7C on Iroha to give +2k and Brave so she can attack safely and then use her dull ability for an additional 2k burn to kill two big forwards.

It pays at this stage to plan ahead for what possible combinations will secure victory so we can start building towards them. It hurts to draw the Magissa the turn after pitching Palom for CP. Sometimes you really have to bide your time and build, slowly waiting for that one moment of weakness to strike. Don’t worry about taking some hits here or there, the deck has a fair amount of Bursts and we can afford to take a few points of damage pretty safely. One of the reasons Xande/Bahamut/Philia are so playable in this deck is that we almost never lose to damage. OK, OK, let me explain, we almost always lose because of the seventh point of damage and not deckout, you’re right, but what I mean is that it isn’t the opponent’s aggression that wins them the game, it’s their economy. Losing as Sams is a grind, and often times it takes forever. They wear down all our resources, and then -eventually- kill us. While it’s happening, we’re looking to find spots where the opponent lets their guard down so we can punish them.

And now we finally talk about the feature of the deck I’ve been saving for last, the true reason Sams has had such an enduring presence in the metagame: Amaterasu. Amat helps keep our early aggression going by countering so many of the common ways to stop us. Having just talked at length about ways to regain advantage once we lose it, Amat helps to make sure we never lose that advantage in the first place. It lets us overextend into Totto. It keeps us safe from powerful stabilizers like Krile, Yang, Ran’jit, Counterfeit Wraith, Rinoa, and occasionally we have Terra out and it kills stuff like Locke and Lightning too. Holding Ammy in hand is like taking out an insurance policy on our dudes. It seriously limits the ways our opponent can interact with us. Even the threat of Amat can make the opponent play sub-optimally.

Amat is one of the big reasons we run Terra, so we have two extra copies at our disposal. Some players have chosen to run Sazh/Mootie to ensure early access to Amat, but I find I agree with Kakka, one of the representatives to Worlds and the man who has championed Samurais most strongly in Japan. He and I both build with the philosophy that we’re ok with just drawing the Amats naturally. On top of Sazh and Mootie just not being particularly strong, cards like Amat work best when there’s some amount of uncertainty regarding whether or not we have them. Once the Amat is a known quantity, it’s much more important for the opponent to plan around them. They’ll try to convince us to blow Amat on something less important, or will find a line that forces our Amat without letting us get value from it. Also, we shouldn’t be resolving them before we’re slamming down our openings, which gives the opponent plenty of time to wipe our boards before we’re even pulling the Amat out.

From here I’d like to really break down the deck on a card by card basis. I’ll talk about the cards that are core to the archetype, then focus on the flex slots afterwards. This first section will cover the cards that are played by just about every Samurai deck. If you’re skipping out on one of these, you need a damn good reason.

Tenzen: I don’t have much to say about Tenzen that I didn’t cover earlier. He’s a threat and an engine all by himself, and demands the opponent find an answer to him, as unlike similar threats from the past that generate constant advantage like Kadaj, Tenzen can’t be outraced by a rush of smaller Forwards due to his Brave. He’s phenomenal early, and great in mid, but in the late game you’re likely to have burned through enough sams in deck that you start to risk missing with his EoT, and he doesn’t do much to help close things out.

Cyan: Unless I’m using him to slam the t1 Tenzen, I usually don’t risk Cyan until the last moment. His use as a board clear is too precious to use him early to fetch out less impactful cards like a Backup. I’ll often keep one safely tucked away in the BZ while I have a Tenzen out, knowing that if they clear the Tenzen I’ll be able to snap back the Cyan.

Iroha: One of my favorite Fire cards ever since she was printed. Iroha boosts Cyan by 2k as both a sam and via her field ability, makes Forza nuke for 8k, boosts damage dealt by smaller forwards like the twins, and buffs the damage from your backline artillery. Being able to add an additional 2k damage at any time is a real and serious threat that you won’t appreciate until you’ve gotten some practice in with her. It really helps us reach numbers that let us threaten huge 9k forwards that we can otherwise (sometimes) struggle with. Note that Samurai 12C and Blaze’s exit 7k aren’t boosted, since you don’t control them when they resolve. Samurai 7C loves choosing her for its buff, as she can now both swing and keep the threat of her 2k dull. Iroha is completely underappreciated, and is part of the glue that holds the deck together.

Hien: Nine times out of ten, Hien is two Fire CP. Every once in a while, though, his attack trigger is just what you need to get Tenzen or Magissa or even the twins over large blockers. I’ve seen a lot of people overvalue Hien, seeing him as a 4cp 10k, but that is so rarely relevant. You’re playing sams, you’re already winning combat. Maybe if the meta shifts and you really have to start getting over 9k blockers he’ll have a chance to shine, but for now he’s mostly just a Tenzen/Gosetsu target.

Ayame: Ten times out of ten, Ayame is two Fire CP. One game out of a hundred we’ll grab her out with Magissa or play her from hand to ensure enough bodies on the board for lethal next turn, or to make Cyan hit for an extra 1000. Sometimes it’s late late late game and you’re beyond desperate for bodies. But seriously, I can count on two fingers how many times I’ve put an Ayame onto the field. I’m not a gamblin man, so I want my Tenzen to have that one extra hit, and I’ll tell you right now I can’t count on two hands how many times I’ve flipped Ayame as my only sam in the top 5. Keep the deck consistent. Run Ayame as your 22nd Samurai.

Magissa: Our default target should be Alphinaud. We never get Cyan over Alphinaud unless we’re planning to use his attack trigger. This keeps an extra sam for Tenzen and an extra Burst in the deck. Naturally, we’ll fetch Alisaie if we have an Alph in hand. Magissa affects how the opponent attacks and blocks in weird ways. She’s usually a pretty safe attacker against anything 7k or below, as chump blocking her risks giving us a free activation. Belias unfortunately gives her First Strike (can’t believe I’m listing First Strike as a downside lmao,) but Ifrit 10H as a combat trick can not only keep her alive, but secure an extra activation. Holding or bluffing an Ifrit can allow you to get some damage where you otherwise shouldn’t be able to. If the opponent swings a 7k or smaller into your active Magissa, just assume something is up and take the hit. She’s not worth risking, especially given how this deck does not care about taking damage (and the Bursts that enable her.)

Alphinaud: Most of the time you draw him you’ll toss him for CP, but keep some idea of how likely it is to draw the Alisaie before pitching him for resources in the mid.

Alisaie: Even without the Alph in hand, playing her out is sometimes the play, as she’s essentially a 1CP 7k. Not great, but sometimes it’s what you need, and it’s good to be aware of the option.

Forza: I like him as a one of. Like Alphinaud, he’s an awful card to draw. Unlike Alphinaud, you don’t have an Alisaie for in case you do draw him. He’s only good off of Magissa, so if you can find a good spot for Maggie to pull him you should go for it, to limit his ability to brick your hand in the late game.

Ifrit: In oXII, we wanted desperately to get our opponent to 5 to enable our Ifrits. These days there are a few Damage 5 abilities we want to be wary of enabling, but we still cherish our Ifrits. They enable Magissa, and can do it on the opponent’s turn; are cheap sources of damage; combo well with our Backups damage, and also with Terra; and are a sweet EX Burst.

Ifrit: A strong removal spell that doubles as a combat trick. Can be aimed at Magissa in a pinch, as Rule Processes won’t realize she should be dead until after the +2k resolves. We’re definitely in the market for ways to enable Maggie during combat and on the opponent’s turn. The absolute dream is blocking a 9k with Magissa, killing something with Ifrit’s burn, killing the 9k with Maggie, then getting a free 3CP. Still waiting on that one myself, but in the meantime Ifrit is still an incredibly versatile tool in our arsenal.

Belias, the Gigas: Years later, Belias is still the best combat trick in FFTCG, hands down. I oftentimes have to resist the urge to use Belias to blow out combat, because the haste is so crucial for closing out the game. It’s important to be able to identify when you need Belias for its First Strike, and when you need it for surprise attackers. In the late game, our valuation swings from using Terra for Amat to Belias, as our need to protect our board lessens and our need for hasty attackers rises. Every once in a while you get to use the +1k to save something from a burn spell, too (spoiler alert this never happens.)

Amaterasu: I talked about this at length above. Best card in the deck. Learn it, in and out.

Gosetsu: Helps secure a good Samurai count while being functionally an Evoker. Keeps the Burst count high. I usually try to skip him on Tenzen reveals unless he’s going to slot in nicely to my Backup development. This keeps his Burst in the deck moving into late game, stops us from pulling out another Samurai which keeps Tenzen reliable, and it’s not like we are actually looking to play the card he gets.

Samurai: Tenzen fodder, Cyan enabler, and an absolute necessity, but finding ways to maximize this lil Bartz is one of the things that will set expert Sams players apart. I don’t have much advice other than he’s really good on Iroha. Unless it’s extremely early in the game, I usually value him over Samurai 12C. His Damage 5 is almost never online, so don’t count on it.

Samurai: 8k is both a huge amount of damage, and at the same time constantly not quite enough. Iroha can’t boost it, since it’s in the BZ by the time it resolves, so it doesn’t take out 9ks without help. Still, it’s a sizable chunk, and nothing to sneeze at. Losing a Backup is a huge cost so make sure it’s worth it.

Irvine: The classic Maggie enabler. It’s nice to see this card finally get its chance to shine. Opus 3 Vivi reducing the cost and damage by 1 each while also adding EX completely destroyed any viability Irvine had, at least until the ability to target one’s own Forwards became relevant. One of the most common cards we’ll pick up off of Alphinaud, even over Palom as curving out with Irvine now lets us pick up the Palom on the cheap later in the game, and it’s likely that casting Palom on t2 won’t actually save any CP.

Palom: 2cp for a Maggie enabler. Yes, please.

Xande: Like I said earlier, we rarely lose to damage, so taking 1 in order to get set up isn’t much of a cost. It’s a pretty cheap source of 7k, too, so in the mid to late game it can be pretty relevant for controlling the opponent’s board.
Blaze: Best Backup in the deck. Being able to hit a second Forward helps control smaller Forwards like Krile and Zidane, and gives both Forza and Cyan some encouragement as well. Backed by an Iroha boost and dull, Blaze can take out a Forward up to 8k. Blaze can clear itself away to make room for new Blazes, making it safe to max out on while deckbuilding. It’s even a great Burst, as though it needed EX.

And now it’s time to discuss the more flexible slots in the deck. There are good choices, and there are questionable choices, and I’m going to address a whole bunch. This section is probably going to be the most subjective part of the article, and the standard caveat applies that of course if your local meta is stacked to the gills with let’s say Neo Exdeath or whatever, that counters to that deck become premium choices. I’m going to discuss these with an eye towards entering a Major with a relatively unknown meta, like the Zanarkand Open, League of Light, or the RVA Centennial. Unless I have a solid expectation of the meta, I prefer to keep my options widely applicable and strong, although even I made some concessions to NXD at Zanarkand. Hopefully the need to do so dwindles in the future.

Ninja: If you’ve watched my presence in RVA at all these past few months, you’ve seen Ninja consistently overperform for me. It was a card I added as a lark, before Palom and Xande had been revealed, as I wanted a 2cp Magissa enabler. What I got was a multiplayable combo piece for Magissa, Cyan, Iroha, and all the other damage dealing backups. What I got was a way to coerce my opponents into dropping their premium removal on my dogshit Forwards at no cost to me. What I got was a way to let my small Forwards, backed by Belias, to safely swing into big chunguses. Now that we’re well into Opus XIII, Palom and Xande are clearly better than Ninja, however I choose to run one of both with one Ninja to unequivocally remove any chance of drawing these in multiples and having any of them be dead in hand, and depending on the meta I may go up to two Ninjas. If you’ve never played Sams with a Ninja or two, I implore you to at least experiment with it. I think you’ll be as happily surprised as I was.

Terra: If you want my honest opinion, Terra isn’t a flex slot. I firmly believe that skipping her is a mistake. But there are plenty of Sams players who disagree with me, and even though this is my article jammed to the brim with my opinions, I feel it would be conceited of me not to place it here. Being able to boost your Summon damage is huge, and getting your Amats back can be game-breaking. Also I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but I have an unhealthy love for EX Burst, and guess which two letters are in her upper-right hand corner?

Nael: The absolute queen of closing out games. Once you identify a turn where your opponent is unlikely to have a good enough response, Nael comes down, hastes herself, and kills a blocker (or two!) wildly swinging combat math in your favor. On top of that, she draws you extra CP to blow on even more removal or haste. I’ve tested a few cards in this slot, and I keep coming back to Nael. She wins games quickly, and decisively. Just be real careful with your math, and make sure you’re going to end the game that turn no matter what happens. You don’t want to move into your opponent’s late game on zero Backups…

Ran’jit: Really unimpressive in my experience. We have so many ways to hit for 8k already, and many games you’ll never even play your fourth Backup, or even your third. This is coming from someone who classically plays 18 Backups in Sams; if even I think I rarely had enough for Ran’jit, then it’s assuredly an issue. Look, I know what it looks like, he’s like a supercharged Forza! Let me assure you, at the stage you are playing Ran’jit for cheap, you need more than what he can provide. Even at the same stage, Maggie into Forza is two bodies, even if it is 1k less damage. The reason you are playing Ran’jit is because you are losing, and he doesn’t stop that from happening as well as other options.

Rain: If you’re not on 5 Backups (which is super likely) *or* not on Damage 3 (which is super likely) then Rain is just a poor man’s Ran’jit. The haste is solid, though, and with Storm being pushed out of the meta we don’t have to worry about strong counters like Alexander or Diabolos as much. If we get to a point in the meta where he can reliably kill two smaller Forwards, or we’re comfortable in his ability to stick around for multiple attack phases, then he’ll become a strong consideration. Honestly I’d rather just run Firion though, as you don’t need to meet the Damage 3 for him to be good. Depending on how aggressive other decks get, though, Damage 3 might become less of a hurdle than we think, and Rain is a great way to push for the last points of damage once your back is against the wall.

Philia: The other contender to rival Nael for your top-end restabilizer. Philia clears the board in its entirety, making your opponent start over from scratch while you sit on a colossal 10k chonker. Philia is much riskier than Nael, however, as an Amaterasu or heaven forfend a Cuchulainn will completely spoil your day.

Firion: Another pet card, enabled largely due to my fondness for the 18 Backup variant which made him reasonably consistent. During the reign of Storm in Opus XII, I wanted a source of Haste that couldn’t be hit by Storm’s removal. Firion’s CP cost is too low to be Alex’d, and his power is too high to be Fina’d. I’ll be keeping an eye on how the meta pans out to see if he continues to be a quality closer, but I’ve dropped him for now. A nice piece of tech to keep in the ol’ back pocket.

Bahamut: We’re already dedicating a huge percentage of our deck to Tenzen, and then another big chunk to Magissa. There just isn’t room to also jam this and a bunch more summons, especially considering there’s no Bahamut summon that you want to be casting.

Lani: Nine times out of ten we’re gonna hit something completely worthless. I cut Lani after flipping a Gilgamesh (XI), considering Sams is a deck with literally zero Gilg targets. Way too random for me. Sams is all about consistency and reliability, and Lani flies in the face of that.

Yuzuki: Good in the mirror, assuming we Magissa her out, as she’s completely uncastable otherwise. Well, ok, we’re not going to pull her first with Magissa, we’re going to get Alphinaud and THEN we’re going to get her next turn, but assuming we somehow get Magissa early and then somehow get two Magissa activations, then we’re definitely going to win this Samurai mirror that we’re already clearly winning.

Marche: Damn, dude, I like EX even more than the next guy, and even I think Marche is scraping the bottom of the barrel. You’ve already got Terra (I hope,) you don’t need more 5k bodies clogging up your field.

Bahamut: NXD insurance. He’s not awful outside of that, he kills 9ks, something the deck can sometimes struggle with, and he has EX, and you don’t really care that much about taking a point of damage, but if Sophie decks continue to push NXD out of the meta, then you don’t really have a reason to play this.

Bahamut: Look, I’m just including this because that fake tournament had it and it gave me an aneurysm. Don’t actually play this card. You would only want it against NXD, and they play NXD way before you have enough Backups to cast this. Even if you’re planning to Caetuna this out (which is an awful plan) just play the other Bahamut. You know, the one you can actually cast.

Phoenix: Cheeky tech at best. Getting a second go at Forza or Alphinaud or Cyan seems pretty strong. I haven’t done much real testing with this, and while I don’t think it’s as bad as it may seem on first blush, I don’t think it’s quite enough to stick in the 50. Worth keeping an eye on, though, as the meta evolves.

Bomb: Multiple people have reminded me that bomb is a Maggie trigger, something I completely blanked on while writing this, so I have elected to rewrite this section. Bomb serves a similar purpose to Ifrit 12C: an on demand Maggie trigger. Advantages are that you can pay for it ahead of time and sit it on the table until you need to use it. This can be relevant while sitting on five in hand with a Tenzen on the table, as oftentimes you’ll need to make a play or risk discarding to hand size after Tenzen draws. Should you not get the opportunity to hit your Maggie with it, you can sit on it even longer until it allows you to clear late game stabilizers that threaten to wall you out of your seventh point of damage. It’s searchable off Alphinaud, which gives you another odd CP option to join Irvine. I’m a big proponent of strong, proactive plays, but honestly I’d just run the third Ifrit before playing a Bomb. Yes it’s because of EX.

Cloud: More NXD insurance. Probably just never a consideration moving forward.

Larkeicus: We rarely lock at 5 Backups, making the downside on this pretty minimal. I haven’t gotten around to fucking with this card yet and honestly don’t know how to evaluate it. If you’ve got some experience with it, either good or bad, drop me a line, yeah?

Caetuna: Get out of here with that fake tournament tech. This can’t cast Amat, which leaves Ifrit and maybe Bahamut as the only targets. Even if you’re struggling to deal with 9ks, you’re not struggling early, and playing such expensive Backup based removal in the late doesn’t leave you with enough time for Caetuna to provide enough CP to make her investment worthwhile. Unless you’re seriously drowning in NXD decks in your meta, skip her.

Mootie: Man, if you really need Amat, then sure, go for it…

Sazh: Same as Mootie, but even an EX fanboy like me doesn’t think it’s worth a whole CP extra…
Cid (FFL): If you want to go to 18 backups, Cid is your man. I recommend him over Fusilier since you’re likely not running him unless you’re going for an extremely high backup count, which means you’re more likely to want the possibility of hitting for 8k more than the flexibility of playing Fusilier as a 2cp Evoker.

Red Mage: Just play a 3rd Belias.

Meeth: Can convert 3cps into Cyan, and can convert Hien into Maggie. Kind of a neat card, I’ve enjoyed it in the past, I just don’t think there’s enough room to justify it these days.

Some generic tips to close things out, things I couldn’t fit elsewhere:
For the love of God always remember to pitch a 3cp sam for Tenzen on turn 1. Hearing the words “you didn’t discard a samurai for that, did you?” is the worst feeling ever. You’re gonna mess this up at some point. Don’t feel bad, just move on. I’ve been punished hard for this at least three times, and I’m pretty sure I won all of those games.

When resolving Tenzen’s “Top 5” trigger, it’s important to have an idea of our priorities. I tend to avoid Gosetsu to keep the EX Burst in the deck, as well as Hien to make sure my future Gosetsus aren’t DOA. There are enough shuffle effects that bottoming a Burst is only temporary. Ayame is only ever fuel. The Backups are fine early, most of the time in mid or late they’re just discard fodder, although sometimes the buff from 7C is relevant. Cyan Iroha and Tenzen are the best choices, although I also like leaving Cyan in sometimes for EX fodder if you can’t make good use of him yet. Sometimes against decks running Belle or Zidane we need to be careful about putting tasty targets in our hand. In general, the Tenzen can be particularly demoralizing, and I’ve seen people stop trying to kill my Tenzen on field thinking “even if I kill it he’s just gonna slam another one.” I know I said this earlier, but seriously, if you can convince an opponent they’ve already lost, they’ll go out of their way to prove themselves correct.

Magissa Backup developments typically go as follows: T1 Xande/Palom/Blaze; T2 Irvine. This both plays into Magissa’s strengths and follows the very traditional Even-Cost-Into-Odd-Cost development line. When running non-Magissa opens, it’s important to know that Gosetsu is your only other odd costed Backup. Unless you’re planning on Gosetsu being part of your build order, it’s usually safest to start developing your backline by playing two Backups, so that you’re more easily able to follow up with an even costed Backup on the next turn.

And that about wraps up my experiences with the deck. Samurais has been an intensely fun list for me, and I’ve loved every second I’ve spent with the deck. Throwing body after body at my opponent is exactly what I love doing, and Sams enables that better than anything else. If the deck sounds like it might be up your alley, I strongly recommend giving it a spin. Eschewing the traditional FF logic and aiming to drop Forwards on the first turn is an exciting way to change up the way we look at the game. I’m excited to see where similar design space leads us in the future, and I’m also excited to see you again next time, here at the Crystarium.