Howdy, folks, and welcome to HowWL! Today we’re going to take a close look at Opus IX, and which are the best decks to be aiming for in your draft. We’ll explore each major archetype, how they work, how likely others are to fight you for them, how much overlap they have with other decks, and which commons and rares are most crucial for each. After that, I want to take a look at several packs, with an eye towards what to first pick, and where that first pick will ideally lead us. That sure sounds like a lot to cover, and OpIX is a pretty deep format, so let’s not waste any time and get right to it!
These are the strongest and most reliable archetypes as I see them. Please note that an element pairing’s absence from this list does not mean that pairing is bad. Sometimes your plans go pear-shaped and you have to deviate from the standard decks. Sometimes you’re thinking “oh man Ice is so open this deck is gonna be great” and then pack 3 the guy passing to you also realized how open Ice is and cuts it hard. The flexibility to deal with these situations while still drafting a strong deck is one of the best skills you can develop. To that end, don’t look at these archetypes as an end-all-be-all list of what you can play in OpIX.
This element combination reminds me a lot of Opus VII limited, where one of the keys to success was picking up and combining multiple small sources of damage. With lots of harmful backups like Ace, Fusilier, Fran, and Viera, as well as forwards like Balthier, Gaius, and Legend Ace, you are able to build your own removal, whether combining them with each other, or with cheap or durable forwards like Gijuk and Rem. Bergan is a strong draw to putting your focus into Fire, worth noting is his synergy with Seven allowing him to take down even a 9k before combat damage is dealt. Fire/Wind is certainly the best combination at extracting maximum value from cadets, and with the exception of backup Rem, they all should be priority picks.
Unfortunately, many of the cards you’re looking for are also hot picks for other Fire and Wind players. Most cadets are good without any synergy, balthier/fran/penelo go well in any Wind deck. This makes it much harder to pick up good cards late in each pack than many other archetypes. Notably, Legend Ace may be an exception to this, depending on how many Fire cadets others have taken, and may be passed in favor of more universally applicable Fire cards.
Important C/Rs: Ace; Fusilier; King; Rem R; Deuce; Fran.
This pairing is widely known to be one of the strongest, so don’t expect to get it without a fight. The power of Headhunters is tremendous, once they get going, and with less removal than a typical set, they are much harder to disrupt. Ba’gamnan offers not only a tutor, but one that also plays the searched card, and will be the crux of the deck. Without seeing an early Ba’gamnan, I would not attempt to draft this deck, but if you see one pick 3 or 4, that should be a huge sign that the archetype is open. With Bangaa at common to recycle Bagman and Rinok, Lilty at R to recycle any of them, and Cid Garlond to dig deep towards Baggy, the deck has an alarming amount of reliability.
To make the best use of Bangaa and Cid, you will want to be heavier in Earth than Fire, which has the benefit of making the most of Garif, a card that less committed Earth players may pass on. To protect your forwards, Golem and Belias are both strong combat tricks. One nice thing about this archetype is that, if you cut it hard and convince the table to abandon it, many key cards will not be wanted by other players, and you may see the 2cp headhunters somewhat late.
Important C/Rs: Ba’Gamnan; the other headhunters; Bangaa; Cid Garlond
This deck is so reliant on Gaius that I would only try to move into it if I saw him super early. That said, if you can pick up two Gaius, the deck has some serious chops. His 3k burn, combined with fire’s backup burns and Edea, will help rip anything down. You will want to pick up as many Gaius targets as possible, as well as multiple of the lightning -> water moogle for Livia. Bonus points if you get an Emperor Gestahl to use as Livia’s third element. This deck focuses heavily on its efficient forwards, and on strong removal, so you will be drawn to Irvine, Fusilier, and Seeq in particular.
One of the main advantages of this deck is that no one else will take Rhitahtyn or Gaius after the second pack. Livia is very difficult for anyone other than Ice/Lightning to play, although some may still go for her if they have a couple moogles and/or a Gestahl. You can even draft this deck Fire/Earth if Earth is more open than Lightning, using the moogle to fix for Nero and Livia. This allows Cid Garlond to trigger Nero’s return from BZ auto, which many may overlook.
Important C/Rs: Rhitahtyn; Livia; Seeq; Class Sixth Moogle; Irvine; Baknamy.
The VIII package has incredible power and reliability. Both Quistis and Laguna help dig towards other pieces, the Edea/Seifer synergy is decent if you can find a way to make use of Edea’s burn, and Rinoa’s dull freeze effects give you unparalleled control over the battlefield. What’s especially nice is the availability of two dual-element moogles, making both Varis and Livia easily playable. Locke helps find what you need when you need it (you can run all summons of one element and all monsters of the other, so in a pinch you can use him to fix for either element.) Nu Mou gives you time to set up or helps clear the way in the late game for a lethal swing, and is a potent complement to Rinoa. Baknamy is also strong, as with both him and Rinoa, Seifer and Edea can dull 2 forwards when they enter.
While both elements may be hotly contested, Fire/Lightning will be more interested in Nero and Livia, and Earth/Lightning in Ravus, meaning they may take those over Seifer, Edea, and Baknamy. Other Ice drafters may similarly be less interested in Quistis and Rinoa without the ability to abuse them as hard as you can.
Important C/Rs: Rinoa; Quistis; Seifer; Edea; Laguna; Baknamy.
This is an interesting pairing, and requires some skill to play correctly. Your aim here is to play a lot of efficient threats, pair them with strong removal, and swarm your opponent. You can choose either element to go heavy in, and try to abuse either Selkie or Baknamy. You’ll want to back up your cheap forwards with Fran, Seven, and Edea, so that you can swing them into large blockers and gain value. Rem and Azul can help put up a strong defense, so keep an eye out for them. Also, you can pick up Adelle and Luso to pitch for Cid of Clan Gully, which no one will ever see coming, and if the game goes long Adelle serves as a finisher for a stalled board state.
Like Fire/Wind, this archetype suffers from its cards all being just good in general, which means anyone in those elements can play them. This will heavily restrict the available pool of cards, so make sure one or both elements are relatively uncontested near you.
Important C/Rs: Deuce; Goblin; Cid of Clan Gully; Seeq; Balthier; Fran.
Here you’re trying to abuse the power of a heavy Earth core, while using Class Tenth Moogle to give you easy access to a Lightning splash. This archetype should only be attempted if Earth is wide open, as you want something close to a 30/10 split to maximize the effectiveness of Garif, Cid Garlond, and Bangaa. To this end, only take the absolute best of the Lightning cards, and avoid ones that ask for a strong committment like Sage, Class Third Moogle, and Baknamy. A Vincent or two will make Reeve a strong pickup, and one you can count on taking late. Make sure to pick up a Ravus so that your Regises have the power to fetch Lightning cards.
One major problem with this archetype is that the cards you are looking to abuse, Garif, Cid, and Bangaa, are also heavily desired by Headhunters. Since you’re less interested in the headhunters themselves, sometimes Fire/Earth will pass them in favor of Backgammon and co, but don’t expect that to last. Also, since you’re only looking to pick up the best Lightning cards, they will also likely dry up quickly.
Important C/Rs: Garif; Cid Garlond; Bangaa; Ravus; Seeq; Regis.
Like Earth/Lightning, this deck attempts to play heavy Lightning while making use of Water’s best options. Baknamy, Class Third Moogle, Edea, and Sage all want a serious core of Lightning, although Sage is much weaker if you can’t pick up any H summons and are stuck with the inflexible Odin and Cuchulainn. The addition of Adel makes Seifer more reliable. King of Concordia acts as both a combat trick and a way to reuse Edea, Ravus, and Baknamy triggers. Mog (VI) lets you put out a very wide board, which combines well with lightning’s strong removal in Baknamy and Seeq.
Unfortunately, Lightning is one of the best elements, and is often heavily contested. With so many cards desired by other archetypes, it can be difficult to assemble 25+ good Lightning cards. Seeq, Sage, and Azul will always be high picks for any Lightning deck, and depending on the synergies other players are trying to abuse, Seifer/Edea, Nero/Livia, Baknamy, and even Class Sixth Moogle and Ravus can be in high demand.
Important C/Rs: Baknamy; Class Sixth Moogle; Seeq; Edea; Adel (VIII); Mog (VI).
Water has much less synergy with other elements than, say, Lightning and Fire, which will often leave it underdrafted. Most tables will end up with one or more drafters in the position to take 40 Water cards, giving them a consistency the others can only dream of. White Mage is perhaps the best of the “pay 1 extra” standard units, the H and Ls are almost all strong and likely to be passed late, and several of the forwards are super cheap. You can often build a wide board, then use wide-reaching effects like Ghis, Malboro, Rosa, and Paladin to make a series of favorable attacks. King of Concordia offers you a decent if telegraphed combat trick. Also, all of your forwards will be able to party with each other, letting you surmount even the thickest of defenders.
The primary benefit of Mono Water is that you will be fighting very little with the rest of the table for your cards. Few others will try to move into the element, giving you the pick of the litter.
Important C/Rs: White Mage; Malboro; Ghis; King of Concordia; Paladin; Mog (VI).
When taking your first couple picks, it pays to start thinking about what kind of deck you would like to draft. I never advocate becoming fixated on your first picks, and if the deck isn’t coming together it is important to move on quickly. It is good to plan ahead, though, so lets look at some Pack 1 Pick 1s and see where they may take us!
Rem is a strong card in OpIX limited. She’s very tough to kill, and helps you to apply offensive pressure while still presenting a solid defense. She is of course at her absolute best in Fire/Wind, when combined with all the Cadet synergy therein, and from this pack I would be looking to take Rem and move into that deck. Another option is to take Rinok and go for Headhunters. Either way, you’re looking to pair with Fire, and a blessing of this pack is the low power of Fire cards within. Hume isn’t bad, but is far from a signal. By taking either Rem or Rinok, and cutting Fire hard, it’s likely that packs 2 and 4 will be good to you.
Here is a tough choice, not only because both Baknamy and Seeq are strong Lightning cards, but also because the person you are passing to is likely to take the other, and if not, the person after absolutely will. This means that you can expect to fight for Lightning cards packs 2 and 4. Baknamy is stronger in a heavy lightning deck, so with the knowledge that Lightning will be cut in the future, Seeq is the safer pick here, as it goes into any Lightning deck. Alternatively, we can simply take Rinok, and let those downwind of us fight over who gets to bring the thunder.
This is a super easy Rinoa, immediately pulling us into Ice/Lightning. What is nice about this pack is that there are no other high quality cards in either element, and we can expect to wheel one amongst Terra, Odin, and Cid Aulstyne. From here, I would be likely to take every single non-Adel VIII forward I saw.
A tough decision here between King and Azul. Either is a decent, if unexciting, way to start a draft. I find Wind to be underdrafted in my area, making me likely to take King. Even if I don’t end up in Wind with a bunch of Cadet support, King’s ETF can be a great way to create a critical turn where you tear down your opponent’s defenses and swing for lethal. Azul, however, goes in any Lightning/X deck without the need for synergy, making him a much more flexible pick. He will buy you a ton of time to set up whatever it is that you’re doing, as he is incredibly difficult to attack into. Honestly, when a pick is this close, I would advocate taking whichever you feel more comfortable with.
There are two solid choices here, Adel and Bangaa. Adel is a strong way to open a game, as she will hold the board for several turns while you develop your backline. Her attack trigger is incredibly CP efficient, and she is a major draw to Water. Bangaa is not nearly as strong, however Earth in general is much stronger than Water, and Bangaa is one of the standout cards, giving the element a ton of reliability while doing it efficiently. I’m more likely to take Bangaa here, as I prefer to move into Water once I realize other options aren’t available. Going headfirst into Water from pick 1 is a great strategy, though, as once you prove to the other drafters that it isn’t open, they are very unlikely to contest you.
Vincent or Ba’Gamnan is the pick here. Baknamy and Seeq are strong, but not quite on the level of these two. Whichever you take, you can expect the next person to take the other, so taking Vincent will be nice as you can assume the player who takes Ba’Gamnan will move into Earth, and the players who take Baknamy and Seeq will be Lightning. Armed with this knowledge, you can immediately avoid those two elements, choosing to pair Vincent with Ice, Wind, or Water. Whatever you do, it will pay to take some number of Earth -> Lightning moogles, just to gain access to Reeve. Also try to cut Earth somewhat but not completely, so that the Ba’gamnan player has no choice but to be Fire focused. A pick like this is a good reason to deviate from established archetypes. Ideally Earth wants to be paired with either Fire or Lightning, but because you can assume they will be heavily drafted ahead of you for two packs, you don’t really want to be in either of those.
Hopefully these examples have given you some insight on how to use the information at hand to predict how the draft is likely to turn out. Even if your first pick is obvious, take some time to look at the rest of the pack, to try and determine what the people you’re passing to will learn from it. You have a mild amount of control over what they draft, and it’s good to really consider how best to use that power. Don’t only focus on making the best picks from each pack, also think about what your neighbors are up to, so that you can more reliably identify what elements or archetypes are available to you.
The more you develop these skills, the better you will find your decks. After all, a top-tier archetype that you had to fight tooth and nail to assemble will often lose to a rogue deck who had uncontested access to their elements. This Opus is more defined by synergy than by individual bombs, so don’t get stuck on that first pick Vayne, or that sweet Nael. I’ll give you permission to warp your deck for Bahamut ZERO, though, that card is legit the nuts. At any rate, pay attention to the people around you, and try to really get in touch with what they are doing, so that you may remove yourself from their spaces and make the best deck possible.
Thank you for reading this episode of HowWL! The rising amount of interest in limited formats over the past year has been heartening to see, and I’m thankful for everyone who participates in pushing draft and sealed into the limelight. I’m excited to see, as more and more people play these formats, the varied strategies we all bring to the table. Our shared experiences make us all stronger, and I can’t wait to see what awaits us in Opus X and beyond! Next month I’ll be competing in the Crystal Cup Arizona, so I hope to see some of you there. Looking forward to the top caliber competition, and I hope you look forward to my followup article! Feel free to follow me on twitter at @HFftcg, and as ever, protect yourselves out there, my dudes!