Welcome friends, eureka here to talk about my new favorite pet deck, Summoners. I was inspired to write this piece because, unlike some of my other favorites, expectations for Summoners as an archetype seem to be all over the place, with most players criminally, albeit understandably, underestimating the deck, while the other end of the spectrum can sometime fail to adequately recognize its shortcomings. Today, I want to use my personal build of the archetype as a vehicle to share my thoughts on the archetype’s strengths and weaknesses, how to make use of it from a meta perspective, and my hopes for the archetype going forward.
Following my understanding of deckbuilding, I’m going to talk first about the core cards here that make the archetype worth running or are essentially required to assure the archetype functions properly.
Yunalesca is the powerhouse and primary reason to consider this archetype. Her enter-the-field ability is not negligible, as it can help prevent deckout, recycle your EXs, and keep Rydia enabled in the later stages of the game, but is mostly irrelevant compared to her field ability. Her field ability will at least reduce your Cu Sith to 1, and your 3 CP Summons (Hecatoncheir, Mist Dragon, Leviathan, etc) to 2, and will usually get you 2 to 3 CP reductions on your more expensive Summons in the midgame. It may go without saying, but playing Summons for less than their printed CP cost gets broken very quickly. “Unwieldy” summons like Bahamut, Raiden, and to a lesser extent Hecatoncheir and Mist Dragon are a lot more playable when they cost less CP.
Braska’s Final Aeon has a second, often overlooked ability. Dealing 10k for 0 CP is great, and enabling this ability is half of the reason we build around the Job as a whole and not just Yunalesca. There isn’t much else to say that hasn’t been said before; Braska’s Final Aeon is just a standalone great card as a self-contained Dadaluma that has additional utility in this deck as the most efficient removal spell in the game. What’s not to love?
Appropriately, Braska is the other half of the reason we build around the Job. Braska reducing the cost of our Summoners is what I would describe as a necessary luxury, since a lot of our Forwards just don’t cut it on a CP-efficiency perspective without keeping them on the field for at least a couple of turns. Braska gives us a leg up on the CP curve.
Cu Sith and Mist Dragon are the only two Summons that I consider to be truly core in this deck. Cu Sith is far too abusable at 1 CP +1 EX that recycles whatever Forward or Backup we need. Braska’s Final Aeon in particular is a disgusting target for Cu Sith, essentially becoming a 1 CP 10k burn spell. Mist Dragon is important protection from a whole host of popular strategies, including but not limited to Fire/Earth FFTA, and is a lot more efficient as an answer to these strategies when it costs less than 3. Neutralizing various removal for a fielded Braska’s Final Aeon and negating many of the popular Summons like Valefor, often at a CP profit, cannot be overstated as a reason to play this archetype.
Tyro, Shantotto, and Ajido-Marujido are the last core cards I have for the Summoner archetype. Tyro and Shantotto are both very strong cards in their own right that also have the added benefit of fixing our colors, something that this archetype is in desperate need of to make sure we can play both the Summons of our choosing and Braska’s Final Aeon. Ajido-Marujido is just a very efficient Summon-recycling Backup that can occasionally provide you with a timely way of cheating out a large Summon, but we would play it without Bahamut and/or Raiden anyways. These are some of the requirements for making sure the deck runs smoothly, rather than the reason we play the deck.
Synergy cards are the cards that are not necessarily must-runs, but have a lot of value when played alongside our core cards.
Garnet, Yuna, and Eiko are the additional Water Summoners available to us. Eiko, as a 3 CP (that can get reduced to 2) EX Backup that tutors half of our Forwards is essentially decided for us, though if it were possible we would enjoy the option of playing the 5 CP Eiko as well. There is a lot of debate to be had about which Garnet and which Yuna we should be playing. I currently prefer a 1:1 split on Garnet, since the 4 CP Garnet is middling at best and there is actual use for both abilities of the 2 CP Garnet.
Yuna is the most difficult to choose; we would love to play both Light and S if that were an option. After playing extensively with many versions of the deck I believe that the deckbuilding restrictions that come with playing Light Yuna don’t provide an adequate reward for doing so, and have found that Yuna S often provides similar or even greater card advantage while not shutting out a Light/Dark slot. Both Yunas have synergy with Yunalesca; Light Yuna’s revealed Summons will get the Yunalesca reduction, while Yuna S appreciates cheaper Summons to generate extra draws. Alone, however, Yuna S can function without any additional Backups and will always get you advantage, while Light Yuna feels a lot more like spinning the wheel and requires Astrologian to fully utilize the scry ability.
Rydia is the only Earth Summoner we have access to, and her corresponding big Summons Bahamut and Raiden are mostly decided for us. Almost all of the other Rydias: are bad; do not particularly synergize with our deck; or lack the proper tools to be enabled (Opus 11). Additionally, as a slow deck, we benefit heavily from having punishers for threatening early boards. Rydia is exemplary of a great punish for this style of play. Unfortunately, Rydia is (again) a lot like spinning the wheel, and sometimes you will need to play Rydia to live, only to whiff. This is one of the glaring flaws of this archetype, and it would be nice to get some kind of replacement for it in the future.
Terra, Porom, and alternatively Citra are fantastic EXs that have very straightforward synergies with our Summon pool and their toolbox effects. I have experimented extensively with no Summon recursion, Citra with and without Phoenix, only Porom, and only Terra, and to my surprise it was Terra who has been the most effective of the bunch. The multiple Light cards you sign up for when playing Citra is often detrimental both to playing big cards and to the multicolor nature of this archetype, while Porom is a very important Backup name in this list (and also comes with a time delay.) Terra has very little drawback, given all our color fixing and our predisposition to playing Fire for Braska’s Final Aeon and Bahamut. I have found that, given backup Porom’s breakability, you can get away with both 1 backup and 1 forward Porom to minimize the color risk in playing 3 copies of Terra. Though I don’t think there’s a ‘correct’ number of these to play, I like having 3 of the EX and have landed on 1 Porom 2 Terra being the most color-safe, name-safe option for the time being.
Lastly, on first glance you might be tempted to think because I’m not running Citra or Light Yuna that I just splashed the strongest Light/Dark 1-of into the slot with Kadaj, but I assure you it’s quite the opposite. Kadaj is, in my opinion, not only the strongest Light/Dark come Opus 11, but the premier resilient threat in the game, something this deck is sorely lacking in and benefits highly from, so much so that I would aggressively cut other synergy Light/Darks to run him. If I had to muster a guess, I would suppose that Kadaj has probably dealt about 30-40% of the player damage in all of my games with this deck. He is a fantastic attacker, difficult to kill, provides utility, sits above the curve, and has EX to boot!
I won’t be going as in-depth with the tech cards, and just give a general idea as to why they’re useful and why I went for them.
Leonora and Porom together form an important Backup-searching-Backup core that cycles (very useful in multicolor strategies) and increases the EX count with one half while being breakable with the second half.
Alchemist is possibly the strongest Water breakable in the game and a very useful cycle in the mid-late stages.
Kimahri is an extra Earth backup (needed to support Mist Dragon and Cu Sith) and can tap for a relevant off-color a surprising amount of the time. Fire is bigger in the meta than it’s ever been, and it’s a great luxury to have for Terra, Bahamut, and Braska’s Final Aeon. Occasionally we can use it to cast Zalera, as well.
Zalera, the Death Seraph is a great non-targeting method of dealing with resolved Braska’s Final Aeons and Ritzes. It’s also very nice to cast for less than the printed cost. Less importantly: because it requires no targets, you can just cycle it for 1 or 2 in the midgame to draw with Yuna S. Kadaj provides some additional support for Zalera by dulling victims in their end phase.
Techs that Didn’t Make the Cut
Fenrir is great at taking out opposing Kadaj. This deck, like all others, really hates playing against opposing Kadaj. However we have some counterplay against it in Braska’s Final Aeon, and in Bahamut/Raiden on the opposing turn. It felt too luxurious and was swapped to a Cuchulainn, which fit the color wheel a little better and boasts EX.
Leviathan is a great filter +1 EX that, when played correctly, enables Rydia and/or gives you guaranteed EX. Ultimately I decided it was a little too slot intensive to maintain multiple copies, and lacking impact when played as a bullet. It was also the most useless Summon when it wasn’t being reduced by Yunalesca.
Famfrit, the Darkening Cloud has great synergy with forward Porom and is generally a good effect to have in low threat archetypes. Without backup Yuna to reduce it’s cost when you have an empty Field, the card is only really useful when you have both Porom and Yunalesca fielded, at which point you will generally be able to get similar advantage with other available removal Summons. Big Famfrit was a similar consideration, but was too useless too much of the time.
Diabolos is considered to be one of the best Summons of all time, and is certainly disgusting to cast for as little as 2 or 3 CP, or anything less than 5 really. Having tested the card extensively, I found that the card is really only particularly useful in this list when you’re already pretty far ahead, at which point nearly any big Summon would be getting the job done. I couldn’t blame anyone for choosing to run it over Zalera, but personally have found that both Zalera and Exodus as well as the 3rd copy of Raiden (which I am currently omitting) have performed better for me on average.
Playing a Long Game
90% of playable decks in FFTCG are in essence grindy midrange decks, given the nature of removal and Forward-centric gameplay. Sometimes decks rely on ‘combo’ cores like Ranperre, but the combo is usually just in service of playing the same CP advantage midrange grind game. Like a lot of the decks I tend to enjoy, Summoners is a departure from this style of play; I find that Summoners are played much better as a ‘draw pass’ archetype, though much less so than Citra/Valefor and Wind/Water Mill were.
Now, as you can probably surmise, I don’t literally mean that your default play should be draw, land, pass every turn you can, at least not the way it is in other card games; that gameplay pattern only works if Rikku is legal. What I mean is that it’s often beneficial to take a passive stance when you’re allowed. This was the number one thing I watched countless people screw up on stream with Wind/Water Mill. If there isn’t a good reason to do something now, you probably shouldn’t do it now. Let’s look at a quick example.
It’s your Main Phase 1, and you have a few plays open to you here: You could play Rydia, fishing for a big Summon to deal with your opponent’s board; You could play a Braska’s Final Aeon to start putting removal pressure on the opponent; You could play Terra and get back a Mist Dragon for some extra security. In this situation, I wouldn’t make any of these plays. I would literally just pass, planning to play a clean Raiden for 7 on my opponent’s turn. I could do it now, and the other uses of my CP are fine as well, but none of them are particularly safer then the Raiden play, and I don’t have a great reason to play the Raiden now rather than next turn, since I could actually get an advantage if it keeps my opponent from playing an extra copy of Firion, or another more threatening haste Forward such as Nael in hand. Keeping my options open and making more efficient CP plays without taking risks is the clear way to get ahead.
Summoners is a lot like Citra/Valefor, in that the more pieces you assemble (in this case meaning Backups in play, Summoners on board, Summons in hand, Braska’s Final Aeons available,) the more impossible it becomes to fight against it. This is the reasoning behind waiting for a good reason to do things, and should be something that you constantly consider when piloting this archetype. There is a very delicate balance between maximizing your CP reduction and playing cards at the best timing to keep the pressure off. Finding this balance is the key to piloting this archetype like a pro.
Miscallaneous Tips and Tricks
- Rydia’s active ability is considerably underused, particularly when activated with x=9 in the lategame for a guaranteed Raiden or Bahamut
- Sometimes, jamming Braska’s Final Aeon is the best way to win a game
- The best search targets for Tyro are usually Kadaj and Braska’s Final Aeon, in that order
- Bahamut is better than Raiden almost all of the time, except against Nael or a Braska’s Final Aeon backed by Ifrit or Belias
- It’s important to keep track of what Summons are left in deck; returning Cu Sith with Yunalesca is often the best choice once you’re in midgame
- Never risk a game on Rydia when you don’t need to
- Alchemist is a great way to threaten access to Shantotto early
- Yuna and Yunalesca are usually the Forwards the Summoners you want to field the most
Strengths and Weaknesses
Summoners is one of the only archetypes in the game that not only reduces the cost it pays for its Forwards, but also its Summons. The CP saved over the course of the game via cost reduction and “cast without paying the Cost” effects is rivaled by no other archetype. This is a mechanical strength that is not directly related to how the deck should be thought of in the meta, but serves to amplify all of those strengths.
Summoners already plays a good number of general anti-meta effects as part of its core and synergy card pool. This is most obvious in the form of cards such as Braska’s Final Aeon and Mist Dragon, but the RFG effects attached to Bahamut and Raiden apply here as well. Removing all of your opponent’s Ritz is a good place to start in the current meta, even better with an instant speed answer in the form of a reduced-cost Mist Dragon. Additionally, the deck excels at slotting off-color cards appropriate for dunking on the current meta, particularly in the form of Summons. You can see in this case I’ve chosen Zalera, but this could be Diabolos, Phoenix, Syldra, or whatever you see fit.
To a lesser extent, low-threat (by which I mean few-Forward) strategies are also resilient against decks that are built to always be fighting against a board, like Ranperre.
Highly Flexible and Personalizable
While I believe that optimization is important in deckbuilding, I have never encountered another deck that was so forgiving in allowing me to play whatever card I wanted to tech. It is very easy to jam off-color Summons and fairly easy to work with off-color Forwards. For example, I had originally considered Terra to be outside the scope of this deck, but found it easy between Tyro, Shantotto, Kimahri, and the naturally high Fire count to slot her in. Additional Lightning or Fire cards could easily be accommodated with the appropriate Moogles, were you so inclined.
Highly Favored in a Long Game
When geared appropriately with the correct synergy cards, Summoners is more than adequately geared for the long game with heavy recursion, a healthy +1 EX count, insane cost reduction and efficiency, and some of the most powerful removal effects in the game. Despite all of the extra drawing and searching we do, Yunalesca played a few times gives us a pretty generous buffer against deckout (especially when returning Cu Sith for extra recursion.) This is important when playing against decks which draw and tutor a similar volume of cards, which is most decks in the metagame, meaning that decking out your opponent is sometimes an option you can play for. That being said, most of the time you will just be able to grind an opponent out of value and win with a board of weenies and Yunalesca.
Susceptible to Early Aggression
Early aggression is the natural answer to hard control in most card games, and this is really no exception. There is a lack of good board sweeps readily available to Summoners, and the ones you could make a case for are usually off-color and come at a high opportunity cost. Good starts from Ninjas, Golbez, and Zidane-centric Water/Fire haste decks can be nearly impossible to deal with when you have a slow start. Even with an ideal Shantotto or Rydia timing, you aren’t out of the woods. Rydia’s potential to miss can also just be lights out against these decks, no second chances.
Dislikes Break Zone Hate
I say this, but Summoners is actually much more resilient than some of the other decks that dislike Break Zone hate. Removing Braska’s Final Aeon, key Summons like Cu Sith and Mist Dragon, or all of the job Summoner threats can be a good way to combat the Summoner archetype in the short term, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Unlike decks like Citra Valefor, there are not one or two individual cards that you can target that will completely take the deck out of operation, the way removing all of the Valefors and/or Leyaks destroys Citra Valefor. Removing 2 at a time, as with Kadaj, is often not going to take Summoners out of commission, considering how difficult it is to pin down exactly what the right removal targets are every turn. Do you take away the Cu Sith and Mist Dragon, reading they have Terra? Do you remove the Braska’s Final Aeon to prevent the Cu Sith recursion the next turn? Or maybe the Rydia to prevent a possible clear next turn? There is often no clear answer, and sometimes nothing short of “remove everything” with a Mist Dragon is really enough to get the job done.
There is no good way to reduce this archetype down to 2 colors. Water/Earth is, as in this list, bound to leave you with extra colors splashed for Rydia and the very necessary Braska’s Final Aeon. Water/Fire is essentially not an option given how bad Water Summons are in general and the lack of recursion, which Summoners benefits from so much. For the time being, multicolor will always ruin some opening hands no matter how much cycle we run, and this is the issue with Summoners that I can’t see being solved anytime soon.
Discard is Painful
As with a lot of other slow-rolling decks in the game, Summoners really does not like playing against discard strategies. The fewer cards we get to cast, the less impactful our synergies are, and the more difficult the game becomes. Early Locke is particularly difficult, given the deck’s weakness against early aggressive strategies. The more controlling the discard deck is, the easier a time we have building up a board that can react to the discard efficiently (pitching out for a Bahamut, for example) and the easier it is to recover with Yuna S.
Place in the Meta
In a perfect Opus 11 environment, the meta might in fact consist entirely of Marche/Ritz decks, particularly the Fire/Earth list popularized (in various forms) by Christopher Mattiske. In such a meta, Summoners would probably be in high tier 2, given that it has a slight favorable against Wind/Water YRP and can fight on par, dare I say even with a slight advantage against most Marche/Ritz decks, given it’s ability to remove all of the Forwards the deck can put out and prevent the recursion of Ritz effectively.
The reality, however, is that there will always be Locke decks played, which really hurts this deck’s viability. Additionally, the surprising strength and speed of Ninjas is difficult for this deck to deal with a lot of the time, though the healthy EX count helps considerably. Were this not enough, the recent uptick in Water/Fire haste decks (coupled as Marche/Ritz despite the inability to search Ritz consistently) is also a troubling trend. As a result of these compounding difficulties, it’s hard to realistically place Summoners anywhere above tier 3, despite having (again, arguably) slightly favorable matchups against two of the top decks.
One other issue regarding this deck’s viability is simply that the deck is unconventional, non-intuitive, and more than a little convoluted, meaning that the deck requires more games to learn and that it is much easier to punt games with than other, arguably more viable decks. It’s also the type of deck that benefits highly from being relatively unknown, and any popularized list would be fairly easy to take advantage of for a skilled player.
Amaterasu is the clear victor for currently spoiled cards that will buff this deck in Opus 12. The card is shaping up to be a clean answer to basically every great meta Forward outside of Braska’s Final Aeon and Kadaj (though both are conditionally possible,) and being able to cast it for less than 3 is going to be a huge driving point of this archetype in the future. Building up our Fire core is going to give us more reason to go for hard 3-color in some Fire backups (maybe Sazh and Mootie) and the Fire-producing Class Fourth Moogle, which is currently not quite necessary to make the deck run smoothly.
Krile is probably the spoiled card that a lot of people would assume to be the go-to addition for this archetype, but the card feels a little lacking to me. Don’t get me wrong, we’re happy to take a pseudo-Summon retrieval effect in-color, but the lack of EX, incorrect job, and lack of a static ability providing us with the correct color to cast the Summon make it seem like an uphill battle off the bat. I can foresee playing it as a tech card, rather than as part of the core.
What I’m Hoping For
The Job Summoner really needs a good 3 CP Forward option in the Water, Earth, or Fire slot. All of our current options just don’t do enough (or anything really) and even a marginally useful 3 CP Garnet with the correct Job would go a long ways in improving the viability of the archetype.
Additionally, a Forward or Backup with the static ability letting us cast our Summons for any color cost would improve the deck’s ability to play off of a large Water Backup base, rather than relying heavily on 2 Earth Backups, at least one of which can multicolor fix (primarily for Fire). In my perfect world, our new Summoner Forward would have this effect and not overlap with our existing names, particularly Yunalesca, Yuna, or Eiko.
A method of punishing early board better than Rydia would go a long way in freeing up Summon slots in this deck, but is probably the most unlikely.
Lastly, the deck needs a good way to search Summons that doesn’t interfere with the card name Eiko and card name Rydia. It would be very interesting to see a Summon that searches for a Summon; perhaps a 3 CP EX that would help buffer our ability to toolbox and keep our EX count high.
Summoners is the strangest duality of great potential and falling flat. There is a lot to be said for digging deeper and continuing to develop the list as the metagame develops, given the deck’s flexibility, and I hope that this article encourages you to take your own version of the deck (or mine) for a spin. If you have any ideas for the archetype now or going into Opus 12, feel free to reach out to us on our Facebook, or me personally @EurekaMinus on Twitter. I, and everyone else, would love to hear your thoughts!