Howdy, folks, and welcome to HowWL! As we start to get back into the swing of things, I finally feel comfortable promoting in person formats again. Opus XIV looks really interesting, as it’s the first time we’ve had so much support for mono in a limited environment, and I’m really excited to see how it plays out in draft. Surely it will be incredibly rare for anyone to assemble a true mono deck of 40 cards, but I think something like a 25/15 split may be common, or even something more skewed than that. There are some other things that look very fun to mess around with, playable Specials at C, the synergies between primals and their backups, and a boatload of powerful backups like Exdeath, Ultimecia, and Luzaf. I know I say this every time, but this looks like one of the coolest sets we’ve had for draft.
As we move on through the article, you may notice an element’s “top 5 C/R” may not line up exactly with the actual scores. For instance Sniper doesn’t have the raw power of Garuda, but his effect is so crucial to a Wind based deck that I believe he is more important.
5: Almost singlehandedly wins you the game.
4: Creates an incredibly difficult game state, or solves one.
3: Provides great value, or balances power with a weakness.
2: A reliable workhorse. Has broad but unexciting use.
1: Easy to cut from the deck, or has a very niche application.
0: Discards for 2cp. Maybe not even that.
On curve backup with 2 (two) relevant abilities. Sign me the fuck up. Both Fire primals are great cards, and at R and H you’ve got a great shot at getting at least one, unless you’re getting cut hard. They help both of their ETFs, lets you trade up in combat, and enables Ewen and Schuzelt’s Grim Reaper if you can keep your Fire primal around. On top of all that, they’ve got multiplay. I don’t look forward to fighting the dude who drafted six of these and five primals, not one bit.
Damage is damage, you can’t always rely on efficient rates in limited. This card is going to feel like a bad Brynhildr if you have a bunch of them, and a really bad Brynhildr if you don’t. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. This is the tool we have, so if you think it’s something you’ll want then you’ll have to prioritize taking it early, so that you can get enough to make the search reliable. This also is an insane card to put to damage, potentially killing something AND drawing a card.
There’s a lot of cards in the set that reward loading up on a specific element of Backup, and Illua is one of the best. True to form, Illua instantly starts heaping on the pressure, as it doesn’t take too much set-up to make her a 9k haste that burns for 6. Keep in mind that you can overpay for her to throw more into her attack trigger. Even without much backline support, a 1cp haster will occasionally be all you need to win a game, but at R you can basically assume any opponent on Fire has access to her, so the surprise value won’t be there in the same way it would for an H or an L. She’s super fragile this time around at a slim slim 3k with no protection, and she doesn’t block well, so make sure a high pressure tool is what you’re looking for, because she doesn’t do anything else.
Warrior of Light
Sadly there aren’t that many SU Forwards in the set (Samurai, Time Mage, Sniper, Dark Knight, Monk, Puppetmaster, Dragoon, and Blue Mage) but if you can get a critical mass of them then +3k is a pretty huge glow-up. Filling your deck with sub-standard cards so that you can make a 4cp 8k slightly better isn’t going to be a winning strategy very often, however the SUs are all C, meaning it won’t be too hard to get a bunch of them. If you move into earth as your second element, you gain access to Dark Knight and Monk, both of whom would absolutely love +1k. Even just giving +1 to Time Mage or Sniper makes them both much more reliable as aggressive tools. Warrior of Light isn’t spectacular, and certainly isn’t worth warping your deck around, but he will get you some incidental value here and there.
Big body to contend with primals, and since he can snap up SU Backups he’s got much more to work with than Warrior of Light. A 2CP rebate will make the opponent think twice about crashing their bomb into him, even if it is the right play.
Ifrit, Lord of the Inferno
ETF damage is always a strong ability in Limited, and this is some of the best available. Boasting EX and a strong field ability that continues to boost your gameplan as long as you control him, Ifrit is a strong pickup for any deck that can run him.
Garland depends so much on how often you can enable him. Breaking your opponent’s Backups is going to be a tall order, so focus on getting breakables yourself. Without his trigger, he’s just an 8k with some nice built in protection, which is about one step above filler. Kojin, Geomancer, and Gabranth are breakable and in element, and there’s also all the other 4CP element backups, Bard, Lugae, Mjrn, Noctis, Heidegger, and Eiko, so no matter what other element you go you’ll find Garland support. The biggest issue with Garland is even if you get his trigger off twice, you’re not really up enough to swing a game.
Losing a Forward is a big deal, and I would hope to get more than +3k and Brave out of it. Putting him to 8k seems… acceptable at best? There’s a few 8ks that don’t mind trading with him, plenty of 9ks, and the Brave is there… why exactly? Oh boy now I can chump block with my 5k. He’s OK as a second defender, hoping you get a decent exchange on your first block, but I think his buff is so telegraphed that it’s not hard to play around. The only Forwards in the set that can reliably KMS themselves are Ysayle and Monk, so it’s tough to even enable him proactively. If Fire had more sacrificial attackers like Ravus, Caius might have a better showing, but the support he needs just doesn’t exist here. And what pisses me off most is that on occasion, he’s actually going to be not only good, but strong, and people are likely going to remember that one time he saved the game with fondness and overvalue him. At C you’re basically forced to run him too, since you need Forwards. Not excited for this piece at all.
His ability isn’t relevant until you’re on your last legs, but then again that’s exactly when you want his ability most, so we can gloss over that a bit. Once you’re on 5, you can counter removal which is nice, or you can establish a perma-blocker for one turn, who can stand in the path of every attacker thrown your way. It won’t be used every game, but a lot of the time, surviving just one more turn is the difference between crushing defeat and glorious victory. At 2CP, there’s almost no cost to putting a single Gabranth into your limited deck, and when he’s good, he’s incredible.
This guy is so cool. Starter Cloud of Darkness was a neat concept, but suffered from not being able to compete for the light/dark slot in standard and being extremely rare in draft, so I’m happy to see a version of the card make it. Unless he is removed instantly, he’s a 1CP Forward at minimum, and the longer he’s able to swing out the better he is when he finally dies. His draw is tied to his attack trigger, so at some point either he dies or your opponent does. Even though he accelerates your pace through your deck, he’s unlikely to make you actually lose to deck out.
Susano, Lord of the Revel
Kills basically everything in the set. AND has haste. AND enables Amalj’aa. AND is findable off Zenos. AND dodges Garuda. Just for the love of Cosmos don’t play this into Sin.
Hope y’all like math, cuz it’s comin at ya! Let’s look at casting Kojin on the first turn. If the rest of your deck is half Fire, you have a 75.5% chance of getting a hit. I dunno about you but I’m not willing to brick one in four games unless I absolutely have to. At 22 we start getting to ratios I’m comfortable with, 88.2%. This means on average you’re going to want something close to a 25/15 split. He does give you a second attempt, and in the late game being able to convert your Backups into tangible advantage is strong, even if that just means taking the one CP you’d get from dulling him, and doubling it by finding a card to discard. I cannot stress this enough, though, whiffing on Kojin is going to be hideous. If you’ve got some strong Fire bombs like Susano or Gutsco, then at least you’re getting closer to them, but if you’re about to run this in a low Fire deck just to meet your Backup count, I implore you to reconsider.
It’ll take a bit to get it up and running, so you’ll need to find spots early to develop it, and its use as a late game draw is pretty low. Once you’re able to meet these prerequisites, it does add up to a pretty hefty amount after a few turns. If your build can afford the time it takes to sit on Yang, it’ll pay off your investment pretty well. Many times you’ll end up cashing it in early as part of a combo kill, which is also just fine.
It isn’t -impossible- that you get his +2k online, but don’t count on it (it’s actually impossible to get his ETF off please don’t try to prove me wrong I guarantee you won’t like the results.) Regardless, a 3CP Brave isn’t awful. Just bad. Warrior of Light and Oelde Leonis have synergy, naturally, and he is C so you’re going to have to play some amount of him if you’re in Fire, and he’s WAY better than Caius, so either learn to like him or draft a different element.
Unless you’re swimming in Primals, just assume Zenos won’t hit. The rebate is nice, but don’t gamble on revealing an XIV Forward unless you absolutely have to. Still, he digs you towards your primals, he threatens to give your future primals haste, and he’s a 9k. Ice is his favorite pairing, as it has not only two primals but Ysayle as well.
Well this is a huge improvement over Red Mage and Yotsuyu. A multiplay unit with these abilities at C is insane in limited, and Geomancer should be seen as a strong signal that Fire is open. Geomancer makes playing defense against you a nightmare, and will stop a lot of attacks against you so that your opponent can actually block. Multiplay on this is huge, and being able to use it twice in one turn is going to end a lot of games.
You gotta be pretty committed to Fire to want her, but once you can get her online 2cp for 8k is a pretty strong rate. There’s a nonzero amount of smaller forwards in the format that she outright kills on death, make sure yours aren’t some of them. Also threatens to trade up to 13k in combat which will kill pretty much anything not named Ravana.
At C, it shouldn’t be too hard to get a few copies of Maliris, not to mention the other Job Chaoses in the set. Her ETF is extremely strong. Usually I expect to have to combine ETF damage with other damage sources in order to break anything relevant, but Maliris is able to take down the majority of the set on her own.
Without haste, there are very few Forwards in the set worth playing out for one turn. Leviathan is the dream, but many of the primals are strong plays. Anything with a decent ETF can be worthwhile, Maliris, Tiamat, Mont Leonis, Zenos, Jecht, Shinryu, Al-Cid, the list goes on. It hurts to use this effect on a Forward with a large power, but if you’re playing a Zenos-centric primal deck, Red XIII makes it a little easier to play out your splashed primals. And he’s only 2cp, so the opportunity cost of putting him in your deck is basically nothing.
After a rather weak showing in Opus XIII, Fire is back to its traditionally strong showing. It has excellent removal, strong synergy, and beefy Forwards. It has the ability to heap on pressure and also to stabilize when under pressure. The strongest C/Rs in the set all seem to be collected here in Fire, and I think most tables will be arguing over who gets to play it. Due to this, it will likely be the hardest deck to go mono, as you’ll have plenty of competition amongst your fellow drafters.
Her statline is acceptable if unexciting, but being able to play Kuja alone makes her interesting. The threat of suddenly having a 9k blocker is real, whether it be Kuja, Shiva, or even Adam. 2CP off isn’t really enough of a draw to play her, so you want to be either pulling in a fattie midcombat or doing something else cool, like after their combat playing Al-Cid into another Forward for surprise attackers, or Zeromus to dull all their blockers. Nothing that you can do with her is particularly strong, but she’ll be able to do some cool tricks here and there.
A discard trigger loses a lot of its value when your opponent gets to decide when it happens. Still, if you’re heavy in Ice, Valfodr threatens to be a zero CP 7k, which is nothing to sneeze at. It’s nothing phenomenal, either, and certainly isn’t reason enough to warp your deck to ensure its online.
You’ve got to either be crazy dedicated to Ice, or have plenty of ways to make the damage relevant, but once you do, Kam turns from a totally average 4/8 into a huge threat. Looking outside of Ice, Fire and Lightning seem to be the best ways to take advantage of Kam, with Illua and Yang, and Ewen and Schuzelt. Still though, there are significantly fewer things that will combo with him than you would find in nearly any other set. Shame it only hits dull, or Kam might actually be a strong attacker. At H, it isn’t unreasonable that you draft two Kams, and Light Blade is actually a strong S. Unlike his ETF/attack trigger, it hits any Forward, and counts your Ice Monsters and Forwards too. If you’re already committing your deck to enabling his first trigger, Light Blade has a very strong chance of hitting for 8 or even 10k. Just be careful about having one of your Ice Characters broken in response, lowering the damage.
Getting to 3 shouldn’t be too difficult, and a 3/8 with two keywords is well worth jumping such a small hurdle. First Strike is an extremely powerful keyword, and I would recommend trying to pair Gilg with cards like Yang or Shivalry for protection from combat tricks. Five is… ambitious, and without much other reason to be splashing so much, I don’t recommend going for it. Seven is technically possible, and should basically win you the game on the spot. The issue you’ll face is getting to that point with such an inconsistent deck.
Solid developmental Backup who cashes in for late game advantage and is playable in multiples. Being able to spend a mere 2CP to lock out a blocker for two turns, without even discarding a card from hand, is the kind of thing that wins close games. Bard is going to be a staple in every successful Ice deck, so get used to seeing them.
It’s a 9k with… well, not protection, but revengeance I guess? Many triggers aren’t optional, so Kuja may get a little bit of value here and there off of like Kam and stuff, but those will be few and far between. Still, he’s big enough to rumble with primals and has a real ability. Most effects that would remove him as a blocker will let him remove whatever was trying to attack into him, even temporarily. Kuja is like starting your day off with a healthy breakfast. You’re not excited to do it, but it’s good for you. He’s a one card answer to a lot of dumb stuff your opponent is going to try to do to you, and even though he isn’t flashy, or cheap, he’s still a reliable workhorse.
You’re not getting 5 Ice Backups, except in the most high-variance of situations, so just look to get value off of his ETF. It can help you push a point or two of damage through in the midgame, and lets you mess with combat math a little when pushing for lethal, but it does not help on defense in any way. He’s a cute singleton in a more aggressive deck, but if I’m on a slow and grindy build that needs efficient Backups, I’m going to shy away from this clown.
It’s not awful if you put it in with Ysayle or Al-Cid, but you could be doing so much better with those cards. Acceptable as a late game free body in an ice-centric deck, and with so few Summons in the set, you’re extremely likely to hit with his ETF. If you’re in a grindy deck with a ton of Ice, he can be a nice way to get a fair bit of extra value towards the end of the game.
Unlike Yang, Goblin is only really good on defense, giving you much less control over it. It’s much harder to pressure the opponent into a bad situation when they have control over whether their forwards are dull or not. You can combine this with other effects that dull, but you’re already combining it with other effects to make lethal damage. Assembling a Rube Goldberg machine just to take down one Forward is rarely worth the effort. If you’re on an extremely slow, grindy deck, 1cp is a pretty small investment for what may turn out to be a huge payoff in the late game.
Ice classically doesn’t get combat tricks. The only summon that increases power it has to date is Carbuncle in o12. Not only does this give a stronger power increase, it also has an extremely good secondary effect. The discard gives Shivalry extra utility outside of combat, as you can cast it on cards like Ifrit or Illua to threaten multiple triggers.
Like Valfodr, since the opponent has a lot of control over when she dies, they can prepare well for the discard. Where Serah shines is in putting the brakes to opposing aggression. She also makes the late game extremely hard for the opponent, as she can lock down attackers for multiple turns on death, giving you a window to push through for lethal.
Good King Moggle Mog
Unless you’re swimming in Moogle (XIV)s, avoid overpaying for a mere 7k. If you’re already locked on Backups, I could maybe see pitching two Backups to bring him back, but I can hardly see the scenario where a 4/7 is worth more than the CP you lost by discarding. Moogle (XIV) is pretty solid, so it’s honestly worth running one or more of these just to turn it on.
Proto fal’Cie Adam
Suddenly, the discard from Serah and Valfodr look a lot more enticing. Don Corneo and Sephiroth can also force discard, making him a sizable attacker. First Strike is an incredible ability on defense, but most of the time your opponent can just wait until MP2 to play out their cards, making situations where he can block as a 9k few and far between. Keep in mind he’ll cancel your summons/abilities too, so don’t go for a cheeky Shivalry while he’s still got counters on him. When playing against Adam, remember that four of the Primal backups (Fire, Ice, Wind, and Earth) can choose him if you really need to strip counters.
Every single element has one of these at C, which I think is going to contribute to a lot of decks aiming to be primarily in one element. Many elements only have five backups total, meaning you don’t have many other options. Because of this, I think you’ll either have to run enough cards to enable these, or prioritize other backups higher than normally during the draft phase. If you’re stuck playing 2 Devouts with only 16 or so Ice cards, you’re going to feel it, so make sure to make your picks accordingly.
Strong attacker who stops a blocker. It’ll be rare that the opponent is able and willing to leave up two 9ks to stonewall him, and at C there will be plenty of times you can party for the double dull and completely ignore your opponent’s attempts to block. His ability isn’t optional, but he can choose himself in case you want to avoid choosing Kuja or one of your other Forwards. Cutely, he also triggers when opposing Time Mages dull him. The more I think about this card, the more absolutely absurd it seems for a C with multiplay. I expect it will dominate many draft tables throughout the lifespan of this set.
Revealing three will often give you enough selection that you can seriously hamper your opponent’s plans. Very often, it will just be “reveal all,” and even when it isn’t you’re able to see enough to make strong decisions. Extremely good at breaking up the common opening line of “play two backups on t1, use them to play a third backup on t2” by sniping the third backup.
Shiva, Lady of Frost
Giga-Genesis is here to fuck. Not only does she punish a large swing by locking down their entire team, she can just casually do it again. Few cards outright win the game this hard. She doesn’t do it all herself, you will need a little support from other attackers and Moogle (XIV)s can lend a hand too, and the more cards in opp’s hand the less she’s able to outright win, but then you’re still left with a beefy 9k.
If you end up with a ton of these, it may well be worth playing Moggle Mog just to enable them, because their ability is reasonably strong. Clearly Shiva is the dream, but you shouldn’t take these on the off chance you get an L. Regardless, they’re 2CP multiplay backups, so take them readily.
This is a huge buff, and you’re barely going out of your way for it. This is one of the best ways to turn a backup into late game advantage. 9k is an important breakpoint in this format, and Lugae fielding a 10k or higher can swing a game pretty dramatically. There are plenty of H and L that can abuse the Brave, notably Gutsco, Gilg FFBE, and Cloud, and you can use it on Titan to make him clear anything 10k or less. Just remember if you use it on Time Mage or Sniper that they can’t trigger on attack anymore.
Ice has some strong lockdown capability, a powerful combat trick, but is saddled with lots of less playable cards. So long as you can limit the uselessness of those cards, either by cutting them from the deck or finding ways to enable them, Ice should be a strong element. Aside from the MEs pulling you into Lightning, no element feels particularly more synergistic with Ice than any other, and you should find success no matter which direction you go.
Top 5 C/R
8k haste is well worth the difficulty of getting three wind backups, especially for the low low cost of 2. Unlike Alba previously, Adelle doesn’t double as BZ removal, but also retains her power on defense, not an unimportant feature. While unchooseability is nice, I don’t think it’s worth losing out on a second element; getting 3 Winds reliably will be tough enough.
With a lot of planning, he can attack as a 9k. How thrilling. These days, a Forward really needs to have Multi-Play or a relevant job to justify being this basic. The “play lots of cards in one turn” deck can reasonably make this guy a 10k by using stuff like Bismarck or Aerith’s bounce and Rosa’s reactivation, but that’s going to happen once, maybe twice a game. It’s important that each element has ways to attack into 9ks at Common, so don’t think that I’m taking a dump on this guy or anything, he just isn’t exciting at all, and doesn’t play defense well either.
Garuda is a pretty solid card, and Ixali has a reasonably useful ability. Bismarck’s the only thing in Wind that really lets you abuse the activation. Puppetmaster and maybe Quina can also make good use of it, but usually you’re going to be doing the normal reactivation stuff, giving faux-brave and stuffing Ice decks in the bin.
Bismarck, Lord of the Mists
Even if he just let Sniper hit for 6, I’d be all in, but he enables so much ridiculous stuff. Churns through your deck. Protects Adelle from ETFs. Lets Garuda, Typhon, and Tiamat hit again. Stock up fuel for Fran and Rosa. Cancel anything Lightning does that chooses an active forward. Turn Ixali on. And that’s all just in mono Wind. There are so many strong ETFs throughout the set to abuse, and then he also heaps on the post-combat damage, making it trivial to trade up cards like Abquhbah.
On demand reactivation is nice, it lets you “give Brave” to a Forward, doubles up on your Backups for a turn, counters effects like Goblin and Kam’lanaut, avoids losing to your last blocker being dulled out, and lets you get an extra activation of abilities with a dull payment like Puppetmaster and Sahagin (XIV). Even with all that flexibility, Cactuaroni represents an investment of time and CP, and you’re going to have to work hard to make that pay off.
White Mage looks super promising, but getting value out of her is a little more difficult than it may seem. The set is very oriented towards mono, but White Mage is much better in a deck that isn’t primarily Wind. If you’re in another Element, White Mage can sometimes slot into a Backup development in interesting ways, as if you discard for her, she can reactivate two of your Backups pretty easily. Even if you just use her to simulate an Evoker, she is totally acceptable, and sometimes you’ll be able to get a double activation out of something like Amalj’aa, Sahagin, or Geomancer.
The only C/R Forwards that his passive stops are Ysayle, Puppetmaster, and Quina, all of whom are also great on the opponent’s turn. There are a couple of H/Ls that it’s good at stopping, Sterne, Cloud, Rosa, and Shiva, but for the most part his ban on actions will only affect C/R. This means that, for the bulk of the time, you’re relying on his action ability to make the card worth playing. Here, its more acceptable to look at what H/L cards it stops, as being able to cancel a beefy ETF is huge. You do have to be proactive about it, by running Sin out beforehand, but being able to stop Susano from clearing your whole board AFTER they dumped their backup is backbreaking. Titan, Cloud, Leviathan, Jecht, Shinryu, Ramuh, Heidegger, Exdeath, Hojo, Luzaf, Illua, Ifrit, Lezaford, all of these are strong autos worth countering, and several of them leave you up a huge amount of resources. Would you try to play Ultimecia against a Sin, knowing they can just cancel her after you sacrifice your Forward? There are so many cards that he shuts down, which is important especially in Wind, as you need to be aggressive here, and Sin will help protect your field from getting swept or locked down. Ifrit is an R that can be absolutely devastating against Wind, and Sin puts an immediate stop to that. Make sure not to let survivorship bias affect your ongoing opinion of Sin. Since the opponent will likely abandon lines that he can interact with, it will be difficult to tell exactly how much impact he had on the game. The threat of his activation is going to do so much more for you than actually resolving his ability will.
Can attack fearlessly into 9ks, and allows every other Forward Wind can play to attack into them as well. How do you block Fran with Zenos, knowing Sniper is going to snipe him afterwards? Very helpful at getting Naja Salaheem through, if you’re running the C Monsters. I don’t have much to say about this lil beater, but honestly it’s my favorite C in the set, and is far and away the most referenced card in this article. The absolute lynchpin of Wind in Opus XIV.
It’s impossible to get the draw off, but Choco/Mog is still arguably the best Summon in draft. If you can get it to 6k, there’re 17 Forwards in the set that it can outright kill, and it’s handy as a cheap source of damage to finish off large bodies. Straightforward and solid, even if it isn’t spectacular.
There’s a pretty good amount of targets for this, including all of the primals. Without getting the trigger off, Tiamat is pretty unexciting, but 8ks will always have a place in the format. Like Maliris, make sure you’re running enough Chaos that triggering it isn’t a fantasy.
Finally we get one of these that you can just run in any deck. If Typhon couldn’t become a Forward at all, we’d still slam him into our Wind drafts, but once you add in Adelle and Vanu Vanu, the draw towards a heavy Wind deck is sincere. Typhon can be a bit scary to use on things with very damaging ETFs like Susano, but most of the time the difference between 4 from top and Break Zone won’t be too much.
No this does not make the C monster cycle good. Unless they’re already on 2, it’s not much of a boost, and at 3 or more they’re pretty much already good to go. Connecting with a 5k with no evasion while you also have invested resources into one of these monsters is an unrealistic amount of set-up to expect the opponent to have no way to interact. Unchooseability is great, but it’s wasted on a 5k with nothing else going for it. In a removal heavy deck, you can use her as your one sticky Forward, so you kill everything your opponent has and you’re left with this one hard-to-kill attacker. Realistically though, your opponent is going to play almost any Forward in the set and Naja is going to sit there looking sad. Sniper can make her trade up. I’m all for synergy, but a card that requires another specific card in order to be playable is not where I want to be.
Wind has a fair bit of filler (lookin at you, Naja and Cactuaroni,) and Vanu Vanu can be strong in helping you sift through it to get to your power cards. You also really want to be hitting a threshold of Backups to support both Adelle and Choco/Mog, and Wind only has five Backups to begin with, so make sure you’re either prepared to run Vanu Vanu or that you have enough better options.
At least she’s slightly better than Naja… If you’re heavy into a Rosa build, you could do worse than Fran, but I’m not sold on the idea that that deck will have a Frantastic showing. You need a better payoff for casting three than a 7k draw a card. In other sets, where 5 and 6ks are more common, she would be much stronger, but I think the average level of power being so high this set has dropped her into irrelevancy.
Even with Fran as bad as she is, Mjrn is still worth including in your deck. With Jote, she rebates herself by 1, and her action ability is a reasonably strong threat in this set, as there are a ton of targets.
Anything that searches Backups is worth taking a good look at, and Mjrn is a pretty decent Backup. This line makes Adelle and Typhon much more reliable, and I feel like the Viera sisters make a Wind-centric deck a bit more stable than any other element (not you.)
With so much attention to mono, it’s nice to see some cards for those in each draft who are left out of a mono archetype. After he kills something, he is pretty soft afterwards, so make sure to be running stuff like Time Mage to help him get through, or Sniper or Choco/Mog to make use of his 5k body.
Garuda, Lady of the Vortex
9ks are around enough in this set that Garuda’s ETF should be live at some point in nearly every game you play, and she’s chunky enough that sometimes you’ll be happy to play her out without a target. Once down, she even disincentivizes your opponent from playing anything that can challenge her in combat.
I just don’t think this card has the support to consistently build a deck around. Unless you’ve also got Bismarck, it can be hard to build up enough fuel to get her 3 off and make use of the CP. Barring some line including Vaan White Mage and Fran, her 5 is next to impossible, and half the time you get it off, you’ll flip something unexciting or unplayable. It’s nice that you can make her unchooseable by abilities, but like Naja, she’s not big enough that you really care.
You will quickly find that Sniper is the glue that holds Wind together. Adelle, Naja, Fran, and Lezaford all need a substantial boost to be relevant, and if you’re going to be deep in Wind your primary options are Sniper and Choco/Mog. Your options at C/R are almost all aggressive, defense is very hard for these cards, so get ready to heap on the pressure. Luckily, Wind is stacked with enough removal to support this plan.
Top 5 C/R
A point of damage is a high cost, but you need things that can tussle with 9ks. Just make sure he isn’t running into something like Garuda and you should be happy with one or two.
If you’re playing Prishe off of him, he immediately becomes way better. As it stands, 6 for a potential 9k Brave is acceptable. There’s a fair amount of thicc butts in this set and sometimes you need to run substandard ways to get rid of them. As we’ve seen with Black Tortoise in the past, 6 for a big brave boy is pretty decent, as oftentimes he was strong on his own without Enkidu Uruk’s help. I think once you get past how rarely you’ll be able to get his ETF off, Wol will prove to be solid filler for any deck that has access to him.
2k is a sizeable boost, allowing a lot of strong combat manipulation. Carb also protects well against burn, both single target and field wide, and can keep things alive against even powerhouses like Susano and Titan. Drawing a card on top is nice, but I wouldn’t build around it without other reasons to do so.
Calbrena is -extremely- hard to get the most out of, since not only do you need the 3 Earth Backups to get her online, you need a fourth to keep her a Forward once she comes back. Even without that, 3 for a 9k is solid; not really enough of a payoff to build around, but if you have other reasons to go superheavy Earth like a handful of Kitones and Carbuncles then she’s a good include.
Titan, Lord of Crags
It’s so easy to back this up with a Kobold, Carbuncle, or even Lugae, and just clear your opponent’s whole board. This guy is going to absolutely end a ton of games, and with very little assistance.
Like we just said for Carbuncle, +2k is a solid amount to add. Being able to do it proactively is nice, as whenever you can find a turn where you have one Earth Backup, you can play it out, and then you don’t have to worry about leaving up the CP to cast it when you actually want to use it. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the surprise factor, especially given there only being six summons in the format, but it does still have its perks. Once you get to +4k, you can start making strong use of smaller bodies like Muraga Fennes and Monk.
This ability is interesting since, when used at precise points in the game, it’s incredibly strong, but since it’s paired with a 2cp Backup that you’re likely to use for development, it’s going to do nothing a lot of the time. In similar fashion, the Burst will either do nothing or be a life-saver, stopping a second attack or shutting down a follow-up from something like Puppetmaster or Mjrn. If you wind up drawing her towards the late game (and still have room) she even helps close out a game. I imagine there’s space here for an Earth heavy deck using multiple Kitones and Calbrena, since both synergize well with having lots of Earth Backups.
Cloud kills an active Forward every time he swings and has built in protection. For only 4cp, he’s an absolutely insane threat, and there’s enough Cat VII in the set to make his action ability an ever-present worry that your opponent has to respect. Very few things can clear him from the field, Susano, Leviathan summon, or a combat trick like Shivalry. Unlike against Ardyn in the past, it’s tough for your opponent to just play out a bunch of attackers and rush you down, in part because Cloud costs way less, but also because every turn they play Forwards, he gets to kill one.
Kobold’s action ability is really strong, the issue is that Earth only has one Primal, so most decks are just going to use it as a developmental Backup, and that’s just fine.
A very strong reason to go into E/W, helps fix your elements, helps dig into your deck, and bad but not unplayable in other Earth based decks. Digging five deep for one card isn’t unreasonable if you have strong bombs like Cloud and Titan.
It is nice being able to stonewall 9ks. He really wants to be backed up by Illua or Sniper so that he can attack into 9s and not just block them. A lot of the time, he’s just going to be a Black Belt, but a lot of the time what makes Black Belts bad are things Dark Elf is protected against.
Ravus isn’t bad, and you can technically play out Ardyn, but outside of desperate E/L builds you won’t find my fingerprints on this prince.
Ba’Gamnan offers unprecedented control over combat. With only a little set up, you can snipe one of your opponent’s weaker Forwards, or trade with a bomb. This is a copy of an old MTG ability called Provoke, and like Provoke, activating your opponent’s Forward carries some level of risk. Unlike MTG, FFTCG has far fewer combat tricks. Still, be wary of a potential Shivalry or Carbuncle. Also, the ability isn’t optional, so make sure to play it in MP2 if you really don’t want their only Forward to suddenly be able to block. Great with Ravana to guarantee a reactivation.
One thing I haven’t mentioned about these cards is that playing one decks you out one turn earlier. Activating one decks you out one turn earlier. Playing a second one decks you out one turn earlier. Digging through your deck has its tradeoffs, make sure you’re not eating away at the time you need to win the game, especially if you’re running a lot of other cards that remove cards from your deck, like Carbuncle, Shantotto, and Dark Knight.
Hojo can be really strong on cards like Mont Leonis and Lezaford, where the high cost is mostly for an ETF and you’re left with a weak board presence. It just feels like it needs to much to assemble for not enough payoff, though. The times you’re genuinely going to trade Mont into Titan are going to be so rare that I don’t think Hojo is worth the include.
You’re gonna find real quick it’s hard to convince someone to make a trade in combat. If your attack proposes a trade, a shrewd opponent will assume you have something up your sleeve like Carbuncle, and will likely just take the damage. In an aggressive deck, you can use your pressure to force blocks, and Muraga can shine there, but I think in general it’ll be hard to get value on anything except Monk.
There are no other Monks in the set, so no synergy here. Without support to boost his power, there’s not many things you want to be hitting with this. He isn’t optional, so it’ll be very restrictive in when you can monkey around with him, although he does make for an expensive finisher for 9ks that block Dark Elf.
Getting two Forwards at once is pretty strong. Mont brings back everything short of Titan himself, and it’s not too terribly hard to get him to 7 or less. He even chumps well, letting you tank a free point of damage afterwards. The absolute dream is Mont into Wol into Prishe.
Probably the worst of the cycle, unless you’re getting some bomb like Titan or Cloud, and then he quickly becomes the best.
Earth has more mono rewards than any other element. It also pairs well with Wind, enabling Lezaford, Totto, Tiamat and Lich, and Prishe. Earth Fire is a strong deck, Ardyn enables some nasty attack phases, and the other E/F cards are nothing to sneeze at. Between Dark Knight, Wol, Dark Elf, Carbuncle, and Chichu, all at C/R, Earth won’t have any trouble contending in combat. Problem is, Earth’s C/R are all fine, but none of them really shine.
Top 5 C/R
His targets in Lightning aren’t the best, but even if he’s just an Evoker with extra steps I’ll play the hell out of it.
Once you’ve met the 3 Backup threshold, Trap Door is instantly terrifying. It only takes a little bit of support from something like Mnejing or Schuzelt to ensure Trap Door can double kill whatever it wants. It really isn’t hard to spring the trap on your enemies and lock the door behind you.
You’ve got some decent synergy with Ovjang and Mnejing, and even Muraga Fennes, but all you’re getting is an unexciting 7k. Still, it’s super cheap, but I think a lot of the time you’re planning to discard Aphmau for CP anyways.
Exdeath is expensive as hell, but also swingy as hell. For only one more CP than Seeq, you get a whole nother body. None of Lightning’s 4CP or less Forwards are so strong that you’re excited to bring them back, but value is value, and sometimes you’ll get something good like Sniper or Cloud. At R, you’ll even get to pull off the extremely efficient Black Hole once in a while. There aren’t many death triggers in the set, but being able to avoid Ravus or Oelde Leonis‘s last gasps is at least a small bonus.
I know, I know, Puppetmaster is bad, it’s garbage for Standard, it’s a waste of a Full Art, I’ve heard it all before, but this ain’t Standard, honey. Puppetmaster gives life to the weaker units you have to play to fill out your 40 cards. Puppetmaster doesn’t have a Dull symbol meaning it and the other Forwards you dull for him don’t need haste. Puppetmaster comes down cheap and changes combat math on a whim. If you end up playing a lot of Opus XIV draft, expect to lose to Puppetmaster out of nowhere multiple times before the format is over. Don’t cast this card before you’re going to use it to win the game, by the way.
Since these put cards from your deck into your Break Zone, as we recently discussed on Paladin, this cycle helps to enable BZ synergies like Gilgamesh (FFBE), The Emperor, Mont Leonis, and Blue Mage. Lightning has the most of these, with Ovjang, Aphmau, Exdeath, and both Ramuhs. Gnath also helps reactivate Ravana if you’re going down that road. These extra small synergies make it probably the best of the cycle, which isn’t saying much.
All you need is -2 to make this worth the add, meaning it’s decent on your next turn. Once it gets to -4 you can start doing some absurd things with it. Not normally great on defense, but you can at least hit Brave attackers.
This card is really unexciting at first blush, but the fact that it’s a C makes Grim Reaper not only possible, but reliable. And all you need to enable it is to play a Lightning Character. Since his S doesn’t even have a Dull in the cost, he can even just use his own ETF to fuel his S. On top of that, Ewen combos with Schuzelt (given another trigger first) and he’s also at C, giving reward to a strong commitment to Lightning. Even without any particular combo potential, he gives you a bit of extra reach during your attacks, allowing you to apply a little bit of damage either before or after combat. All in all, a card with lots of potential applications.
Ok for real though, why is this ability on a Lightning card? Can someone answer me that question? I get that it’s on Ravana, because it allows Ravana to do something that is flavorfully very Lightning, but it’s just so far outside of Lightning’s wheelhouse to do damage reduction like this. At any rate, it’s a strong ability, giving you a lot of protection whenever you can go into combat with it online. It’s the only one of the cycle that can only choose your Forwards for some reason (probably Magissa) so don’t try to lift counters off of opposing Adams.
Seeq proved itself to be well worth its price at 7CP, and should you decide to discard, Heidegger ends up being 1CP cheaper, since you always had to discard at least two to play Seeq. Not only is Heidegger more efficient, the payment is also optional. You can just play him out as a developmental Backup in a pinch. Not only is Heidegger more flexible, he also has yet another ability, letting you draw into more gas in the late game when you’re ready to start turning your Backups into board position. Not only that, but since he can clear himself from the field, he can even mimic Seeq’s multiplay, the only advantage that card has in the first place. All around, Heidegger is one of the best Backups in the format, and it’s rare that you should pass on this Rare.
Ravana, Savior of the Gnath
A terrifying attacker, Ravana can slam again and again and again until she hits the opponent, very reminiscent of Zhuyu of old. The damage reduction is from all damage, making it very hard for elements that rely on damage like Fire to deal with him. This is crucial for determining exactly when in any given matchup to safely commit a 6cp Forward to the board, as getting him blown out will put you down a hefty chunk of resources. Naturally, breakable Backups are an ideal pairing, allowing him to gain extra activations. He can even swing safely into Forwards bigger than him as part of a combo kill with Ewen or Ramuh Summon.
Most of the Lightning targets are super unexciting, but once you start looking at other elements, Mnejing becomes very appealing. Caius, Gilgamesh, Adam, Dark Knight, and Monk are all great targets for this boost. +1 isn’t that much, but for a single CP I’ll happily take it.
If nothing else, he makes Fachan, Goblin, and Yang only need one turn of set up to kill something. As we discussed, he’s a natural combo with Schuzelt, another C in the same element, but anything that deals any amount of damage can be made lethal with Ewen, like Primal Ifrit or Kam’lanaut. The big issue with Ewen is that, at 2k, he needs to be getting his ETF to be worth it, which means you probably don’t want more than one of him, maybe two if you can very reliably resolve him. At C you’re going to be swimming in Ewens during the draft, so feel free to pick other stuff over him, you’ll probably be able to grab as many as you want. Also, his ETF isn’t optional, so make sure the only target isn’t your own.
Ramuh, Lord of Levin
In a deck with a few Ramuhs, both Primal and Summon, they can be pretty strong together, although Primal Ramuh is no slouch on his own. 5/9 is an acceptable statline, and with a Sylph or two backing him up, Primal Ramuh can dominate combat.
It’s possible to engineer a situation where you use Ramuh to finish off something that blocked Dragoon or Roche, then ping something else and enable Ewen or Grim Reaper, but most of the time this is going to be an expensive way to finish something off. Good luck getting this to deal enough to kill even Illua. Absolutely stunning with a Primal Ramuh on the field, though. 2CP break two Forwards is an effect well worth building around, and Primal Ramuh is R so it’s reasonable to get like two of each.
-3k is a strong amount. Sure, it isn’t a damage trigger so it doesn’t enable Ewen (Dragoon entering the field still enables Grim Reaper) but other than Ewen, negative power is almost always better than pure damage. This lets you bring low a daunting blocker, allowing a more aggressive combat phase. This lets you swing Aphmau, Roche, Trap Door into Forwards too big for them, then brings down the hammer in MP2. At C, it’s quite possible to end up with five or more of these, and they are excellent in multiples. Playing two in one turn ends with a -9k total, enough to outright end almost anything. Also, once you resolve one, your opponent will think twice every time you make a weird attack.
A list of what he gets: Illua, Time Mage, Adelle and White Mage and Sniper and Lezaford in Wind, and Ewen (and himself too I guess.) In Wind/Lightning, the archetype most in the market for small cheap bodies, it’s very likely that he comes down as a 0/3. Now this isn’t nearly enough value to retire on, but if you end up in the Wi/Li archetype, it’s worth keeping an eye out for a Luso or two. Sniper, Lezaford, and Ewen are all well worth digging for. Just make sure you’ve got a use for a 3k, whether you’ve got enough removal to push him through or a bunch of medium Lightning Forwards who want a party partner.
-5 on death is a weird effect to make strong use of. It will be rare that Ravus doesn’t outright kill whatever kills him, although it is nice that he’s protected from lines like “block with 8k cast Carbuncle.” Throwing the -5k elsewhere is helpful. There are 14 Forwards small enough to outright kill, although some of them do get bigger like Fran and Roche, and some are nigh unplayable. It also, like Dragoon, lets you soften another Forward for the rest of the Combat Phase, allowing an extra attack or stopping one. At R, you can even chain these. -4CP is a hell of a deal. This guy is extremely scary to block while you’re sitting on like five in hand. He’s the only Captain in the set, so no cool random synergy, unfortunately.
He smol, but he angy. Like Luso, a 0/4 is attractive, and at the same time, a 2/7 is also attractive. The Haste makes him even more appealing, as you can strike out on T1, and you can surprise the opponent with extra attacks in the late. Roche isn’t particularly good in the space between turn 1 and Damage 3, but that’s fine You also want to make sure you’ve got strong support to make sure a 7k stays relevant no matter what the opponent is doing, Fachan, Dragoon, Ramuh Summon, partying with Ewen or Luso, whatever you need. Roche’s goal is to turn sideways, make sure your goal is the same.
Lightning is in a pretty solid spot, lots of removal, some strong heavy hitters in Ravus and Primal Ramuh, and good aggressive tools to apply lots of pressure. Lightning cares about being mono less than any other element, with only Trap Door and Gnath giving you much of a reason to go all in, and Mnejing actively wants better targets from other elements. Sniper is a huge boon, and several other Wind cards play well with Lightning’s toolkit. The MEs also lead to a natural pairing with Ice, though without a Zeromus or Al-Cid I’m not sure I see too much natural synergy drawing me to put the two together.
Top 5 C/R
2CP 8k is pretty reasonable. Some of the C Monsters aren’t too bad, Fachan Yang and Chichu are all pretty playable, and the H cycle is all gas except for the Ice one. Octomammoth, Trap Door, and Typhon in particular are extremely nasty and well worth getting a second shot at. Plus the card looks dope.
Water has few strong reasons to go mono, and a mono Water deck tends to have more holes and weaknesses than other monos, so Ananta becomes less desirable than the rest if its cycle as a result. It can be helpful for channeling Monsters into the bin for BZ synergy, and Octomammoth is a very strong reason to go mono, so it’s not like Ananta is useless, just the least applicable of the 4CP diggers.
Sure every once in a while you get to turn something like Warrior of Light into a Cloud, but so many bombs are bombs due to their ETF, not because of their ongoing board presence. To get over Ulti’s 4cp threshold, you really want to be sacrificing something you’re getting value from, whether it’s an ETF you already used or a break trigger like Ultros. You can use her to clear a blocker, giving her some legs in terms of aggression. Her ability does leave you up a Forward, but it will be very often when it just doesn’t line up, or the thing you want to take is dull and will leave you defenseless, or heaven forfend your opponent kills your only Forward with a cost equal to one of theirs and you have to sacrifice someone for no benefit. With some cautious play, I think she’ll make for a fine one-of. She’s a risk, and hard to evaluate, as her Magic Christmasland potential is pretty high, but she can also just blow up in your face. Either way, she’ll leave you with some dramatic stories.
Being able to grab back Leviathan is strong, especially in the late when you don’t care about your Backups anymore. The ETF however is much MUCH more situational. All the Summons have EX, so you kind of want them in your deck. It’s particularly good with Ramuh, since it powers up future Ramuhs and helps Primal Ramuh gain haste. It’s particularly bad with Ifrita, since now you have fewer Ifritas to chain. It can help buff Gilg (FFBE) too, if you’re in that market. I have a feeling, though, that most of the time the correct option is to not search, or to fail to find so that you can shuffle your deck in case you put a bomb on the bottom with your mulligan or a card like Totto.
Like Typhon, I’m jamming this in every deck that can play it, even if he can’t possibly become a Forward. An early Octomammoth raises the value of Blue Mages and Anantas dramatically, and should be a huge draw to mono Water. There will be ton of games that double bounce will just outright win on the spot.
Ultros‘ one potential strong use is as a repeatable chump blocker against aggression, playing defense over and over as you set up for the long game. The problem with this is that you lose an eighth of your deck every time you use him. Unless you’re planning on playing all sixty cards that you drafted (please please don’t do this) he’s going to run you out of deck long before you can turn the tide and drown your opponent in advantage. Don’t run this washed up octo, unless you’re seriously thirsty for a Forward count.
Leviathan, Lord of the Whorl
Assuming you won’t hit a Monster, you bounce a Forward, bounce a Backup, then kill two more Forwards. With a cycle of Monsters at C and again at H, there will be plenty of times you can hit a Monster too. You’re not going to get the -9k from the C cycle as they can crack them in response (unless you can leave Goblin without a target) but you can force them to pull the trigger before they get enough counters to do anything. Some of the H monsters you may opt not to bounce, like Typhon and Octomammoth. I’d go out of my way to play this if it were a Summon, but it also leaves a 9k body behind, and threatens to make Summon Levi even stronger than it already is. An absolute nightmare to deal with, and one for whom there really aren’t any good answers. He’s going to get massive value every single time.
Stocking up on Monsters really isn’t where you want to be in this format, but since they’re all C it won’t be hard. Quina itself is an amazing card, letting you filter through your deck while stockpiling ammo for its powerful removal; the issue is that you’re running a lot of substandard cards to enable it. The H cycle is pretty strong, but at H they’re few and far between, and Quinaing them into oblivion neuters any Blue Mages in the future.
Being able to pitch a duplicate and get two random cards in return is a great way to encourage playing a ton of the same named Character. Like Blue Mage, what you’re getting on the field is just a 2/8, which is on the stronger side of average, but the real strength is in card selection.
Honestly, Water churns its deck so much that running out of cards is going to be a real threat. Corsair is going to be incredible at turning a bad opening hand into a playable grip of cards, and at turning your chaff into your gold. It does run your deck quicker, so be careful of loading up on effects like this as you may find yourself out of cards when your opponent isn’t even halfway done with their own deck.
His only pure Water options are Quina and Larsa, neither of which are standouts, so you’re instantly in the market for another Element (Ultros isn’t a real card I don’t care what SE says.) Blessedly, there are some great options in other Elements. Gutsco, Gilg (FFBE), Adam, Adelle, Dark Knight. Wind and Lightning both have five, and going Wind also give you access to Aerith and Zidane as well. On whiff, this also gives you (and your opponent) some information about the top of your deck, which can alter combat decisions on their turn. His action ability is stupid expensive, and honestly if you ever get it off then you deserve to win (though you probably won’t.)
Since Sahagin has a built in dull ability, you don’t even need a follow-up card for Levi or Lakshmi to make use of Sahagin reactivating; you can just start filtering your draws immediately. Most of Water’s card filtering removes cards from the deck, so it’s nice to have an option that bottoms the unwanted cards while you set up your draws and bursts. Also helps fix for Golbez.
You’re probably just getting the bounce, which is fine. Between this, Steiner, and Golbez, I feel like SE didn’t realize Water loaded four Backups at C and only one multiplay Forward, and getting this critical mass these cards ask for is hard for Water to manage.
This is a huge drawback, but you need to be running ways to deal with enemy 9ks, and Water doesn’t have that many at C/R. I feel like you’re basically forced to run this if you’re primarily in Water, so make sure you can actually cast him.
The idea of deck filtering is to ensure smooth early development or guarantee your lynchpin on schedule. Tonberry does neither of these. After multiple turns of sitting on this until it has four or five counters, you finally end up with a 2CP defecit. This is exactly why Quina is wasted in this format, it drives you to play cards like this.
Lakshmi, Lady of Bliss
An extra card per turn is like playing two Backups at once, and if you’ve ever played Tenzen on T1 you know exactly how strong that is. Also enables Sahagin (XIV).
Given how few EXs are available, 13 counting Larsa himself, Larsa’s boost is going to be extremely tough to enable, especially considering every EX is R or rarer. Assume for most of the time you play him, he’s a smol who can fix your hand a little bit towards the late game. His value depends entirely on what you take as damage. It’s hard to justify slotting him in when you’re already playing slots to determine how good he is.
It’s a bit expensive, but tacking on recursion to o1 Levi is pretty worth it. There aren’t many ways for the opponent to interact with your BZ, so Levi gives your Water Forwards a second life. Sadly, most of the high CP Forwards have strong ETF that you may not want to give back to the opponent, which puts Levi in a weird position. Every once in a while though you’ll be able to hit something with an ETF that’s awkward to make use of, like Primal Ifrit, Wol, or Vaan, or even better sweep an Omega to the bottom.
Unlike Famfrit, you do have to bounce something of your own to get the effect, but like I just said with Levi, there’s lot of great ETF’s to double up on, and the Back Attack allows you to respond to effects like Fachan or Tiamat (IX) for extra value. There should be multiple opportunities each game for Luzaf to be a strong play. Just be careful about your Forward being sniped in response.
Water I think is going to have the hardest time going mono. It has a handful of strong cards, but also a handful of barely-playables, and only Steiner is really able to handle 9ks at C/R, so unless the packs have a strong showing at the H/L slot I would not focus heavily on Water. Lakshmi + Sahagins allow you to dig deep into your deck for whatever you’re looking for and should be a strong base to basically any deck.
Top 5 C/R
Light, Dark, Multi-Element, and Legacy
There are tons of 3s and a fair few 6s running around for Shin to prey on, 18 of the 77 Forwards in the set die to his ETF (Ravana survives,) and he continues to gain value every single turn. Seeing the opp’s top card is nice to avoid EX, and in the off chance that you don’t end up dealing damage it gives you a bit of insight to their next turn.
There’re six Summons in the set, so you can reasonably activate her once per game. All her options are pretty strong, and her discount is good for any Summon except Carbuncle. She becomes an actually powerful card in a Fire deck with three or more Ifritas, where she can discount a chain of them, then use them as fodder for her action, and Ifrita will be somewhat less attractive to other drafters, but I wouldn’t try to force. On her own, she’s just a 6k who can’t even party, so make sure you’re getting some advantage out of her.
Omega gives you some strong inevitability while also being immune (once) to non-Summon speed breaks like Ewen and Garuda. There are plenty of 9s running around, being able to top them puts you in a comfortable position. Mandatory triggers like Schuzelt can also allow you to turn him into an indestructible blocker if you really need to play defense, although it opens him up to being broken on their next turn. Many games, you’ll be able to just turtle up behind Omega and wait for him to win you the game.
Played early, Sterne can save you a ton of CP, and played late you’ll have a ton of fuel for his action ability. All his options are strong, and you’ll have no problem making Sterne fantastic in literally any deck.
First Strike is particularly nice if you can back it up with direct damage, but your only reliable sources in these elements are Yang and Amalj’aa. Even though both his options enable attacking, he’s very flexible in terms of positions he can enable. The First Strike can blow open stalled boards, where both players have a ton of Forwards but none can attack. The Brave lets you get over tough blockers like Omega, and also if you’re playing defense and can’t lose a blocker, it lets you lash out while keeping your guard up.
Do you have a Cloud? Then she fetches one of the strongest cards in the format. Even if you don’t, +1k on swing to all your Forwards is a hot commodity. Maria is a hell of a card, even if she’s only active some of the time. She is only 5k, and naturally her Damage 6 is off the table in limited, but I think she’s still a fine slot.
Most of the time he’ll be a 4CP 9k with some protection, which is very playable. If you happen to draft Tifa as well, he has some small upside interactions with her, but neither is really worth going out of your way to enable. Solid card, large body, resists some removal, not much more to say than that.
Two bodies for cheap, his freeze punishes your opponent’s offense, and if you’re positioned to attack with a Lightning Forward that turn you can seriously turn the game on its head. Al-Cid requires extremely little set-up to be totally busted, have a 4cp or less Ice Forward in hand and a Lightning Forward that can attack, and things start looking grim for your opponent in a hurry.
Since he has strong game against active or dull Forwards, he’s going to be a relevant play very often. 5k is a huge amount to start a damage combo with, and forcing the discard on top of locking down a Forward makes the tempo swing even more appealing.
Since you’re shutting down your opponent’s ability to block, be prepared to deal with all of their Forwards swinging every single turn. He essentially turns the game into an all out brawl, so look for things to abuse that, like Gilgamesh (FFBE) as a First Strike blocker, or Serah and Shiva to keep their board locked down, or Trap Door to threaten a double kill.
Vaan is the only Sky Pirate in the set, but his ETF still reactivates all your Backups. This can be helpful if you’re trying to meet a cast threshold for Fran or Rosa. His second trigger can be very hard to make use of, as there are so few Summons in the set, but Ixali or Sahagin can be decent to get extra activations from. If you’re not playing Vaan off 4 or more Backups, he loses a lot of his value, so make sure your deck is suited to enabling that.
Can be a strong cog in a deck looking to enable Rosa or Primal Levi by bouncing cheap cards like Fran. Garuda, Tiamat, Blue Mage, and Lezaford can also be good cards to reenable. The unchooseablity is also nice, especially to protect a key blocker from effects like Time Mage and Sniper.
It costs 2 and it can’t be blocked. Also it’s big enough to survive most single sources of burn like Ifrit, Ravus, and Sephiroth. Then on top of all that it resets your opponent’s investments or like Aerith lets you double up on your own ETFs. Absolutely insane package well worth building your deck to support.
Cheap 9k that comes with an extra body. There are very few characters in these elements that Prishe can’t get, Garuda, Wol, Titan, and Mont Leonis. She can put out anything else. As long as you’re not casting her on 5 Backups, it’s nearly impossible for an E/W deck to whiff, although I guess Lezaford isn’t exactly an exciting play.
I hate that this card costs 5, but I recognize that at 4 it would have been an obscene turn 1 play. Still, I feel like it needs some slight extra bonus to be worth it’s cost. Don’t get me wrong, unconditional discard is a strong ability. If you are in tune with your opponent, you can often identify a moment where they’re leading up to a strong play on the following turn, and Gessho gives you a powerful method to rip that play from their hand. It also gives you a solid turn 2 play, developing a Forward while disrupting your opponent’s development. It also is a good way to clear a path for your bombs by clearing removal from your opponent’s hand, or if your opponent is representing a combat trick, you can take a peek at their hand and make sure your attackers stay safe.
Cloud of Darkness
It’s pretty easy to get at least one of these off. Valfodr, Shivalry, Serah, Don Corneo, and Seph can all cause discard, and Water has a million was to draw a card. Even at full price you’re still happy to play her, and at 2 or 0 she’s a great deal.
Wol gets one last chance to be relevant, and he’s here to make the most of it. The boost and the Brave are both massive upgrades to your combat phases. The 3k to a dull Forward can help cards like Sniper, Kam’lanaut, Choco/Mog, and Ifrit to combo kill things. The protection from EX isn’t irrelevant, there are seven bursts it outright stops and it also halves Leviathan Summon’s effectiveness as a burst. Wol takes so many Forwards that are almost strong and gives them the boost they need to be proper terrors.
Play five Backups and win game. Even if Ice manages to get a strong First Strike blocker like Adam or Gilg (FFBE), Estinien don’t care. No one is going to see Estinien coming (unless you reveal him off Gnath) so it’s unlikely the opponent will have an answer on the table, so if you can haste him then he’s going to hit for a ton of impact. Levi is the only summon that handles him cleanly, Choco/Mog can with enough board presence, but neither Ifrita nor Ramuh will manage to stop him without their partner primals present.
There is so much in the set that this stops. The entire C cycle of monsters. The entire C cycle of primal Backups. Geomancer. Bismarck’s 2k. Sin’s auto cancel. Mjrn. Cloud’s protection. Puppetmaster. Quina. Macherie and Sterne. He even shuts off the Specials at C and R, Kitone’s Dream Within a Dream, Exdeath’s Black Hole, and Schuzelt’s Grim Reaper. Depending on when you time playing him, you can throw a huge wrench in the opponent’s plans. If there’s nothing to shut off, however, he’s just an on curve body that can’t be pitched for CP. There are plenty of things he stops in every element, though, so you should feel safe in putting him into your deck.
As always, I appreciate you all for coming and spending your time here with me. Keep yourself safe out there and please don’t draft if you’re not vaccinated; card games are fun but they’re not worth dying over. Should you get the chance, I recommend giving XIV a draft or two, as it feels super promising. There are many different archetypes to explore, and I’m excited to dive deep into the format, and I hope you are too. Good luck on your Pack 1 Pick 1s, and we’ll see you here again, next time on the Crystarium.