Howdy, folks, and welcome to HowWL! Today we’re going to talk about the Crystal Cup draft format, and how it differs from other draft formats that have been popular in the past. Not every CC is going to have draft, but it will be present for several of them, and we’ve found it to be a very fun format worth exploring in detail. There are several things that make Six Pack Competitive, or SPC, unique, and we’re going to delve into the implications of each. All examples are going to be from Opus VII, but everything we discuss here is valid across all sets. We’ve even Chaos Drafted Opuses 1-6 with SPC rules and had a great time! From my experience in testing so far, this is an exciting format with a lot of room for tough strategic decision making, so lets take a close look at what SPC means for you!

What defines Six Pack Competitive?

  • Two more packs than normal
  • Backups don’t have any special rules
  • Pods consist of eight players
  • You may be paired against people who were not in your draft

What can we take away from these changes?

The move from 4 to 6 packs increases your pool of cards dramatically. You get two more packs to pull bombs from which raises the average power level of each deck. Also, you move from 48 cards to 72. Being able to cut 32 cards is an unprecedented amount of flexibility. You are able to make many more speculative picks, like taking an Exdeath pack 4 without having taken any other lightning cards. You are able to explore an element more before deciding whether or not to commit to it. You are able to take a card that is only strong when supported, like Sazh before seeing any Ifrits. You are able to forgo crucial cards for stronger cards early, like taking a Time Mage over a Yeul deep into an early pack even if you have no backups yet.

You have a lot more room for exploration. You are able to change elements further into the draft. Two and a half entire packs worth of cards won’t make your deck, it’s worth it to use those to really explore what your options are. You tend to pick strong cards from multiple elements, so picking up cards like Shantotto and Moogle (FFCC) can help you to play these as minor splashes. For Opus VII splashing, keep in mind that the monsters with good discard effects like Bomb and Goblin are very useful, as they are still usable even when you’ve drawn no other cards in their element. This doesn’t apply to Coeurl and Sahagin, however, as Coeurl has no targets and Sahagin can choose only Ramza. Since those two have to rely on their break power, they need a greater amount of elemental support.

On the other hand, with six packs it is easier to force an element that is being taken by your neighbors. While this can be a risky strategy, as many of the strong cards you want will be taken before you can get to them, if you have a couple of serious bombs from early in packs it can be worth it to shore them up despite a restricted selection. Take this example: You start off the draft with a first pick Lann, take an Ifrit second, and see no good fire cards until you open pack two and see Reynn, but also a strong card in an element you haven’t moved into yet. She fits into the two fire cards you have, and you can probably pick up a Fritt or two. This is an interesting decision, as you know Fire is going to be cut hard for packs 3 and 5. Do you risk being able to get the cards you need in the even packs? Or do you take the safer route of moving into a new element? I will always advocate being willing to move off of your first pick, as finding the open elements will usually lead to a stronger deck, but it’s worth keeping this in mind when you start off with multiple high-level cards in one element.

Another thing to keep in mind is that since you are able to create a much stronger foundation in any given element, cards like Tidus L or Ramza H which require a huge commitment to one element end up being much stronger in SPC than in other limited formats. Also, since you will see so many more cards, synergies that require specific cards become much more reliable. Playing Hope for free off of Bartholomew. Finding lots of Warriors of Light to enable Dusk. Buffing Galdes with Cu Chaspel. The Tidus C + Exdeath loop. These sorts of combos will be easier to pull together, and cards that need support rise in value the more picks you get.

With each player having a much wider selection of cards to build their deck from, this also minimizes the damage done by hatedrafting. Typically hatedrafting is already a very weak move, as you skip improving your deck by one pick and only weaken the deck of a single other person, one you may not even play against. In SPC, the people you are passing to have two entire additional packs to continue improving their decks, making it more and more likely that the card you stopped them from getting wasn’t even important. Moving on to another aspect of the Crystal Cup format, the crosspod pairings, hatedrafting continues to lose value. Instead of harming one of your seven potential opponents, you now have thirty one other players, and the impact of removing a single card from such a massive pool is almost negligible. To this end, if playing at an actual CC event, it pays to try and work with the rest of your pod to make all of your decks as good as possible, as slightly fewer than 1/4th of your potential opponents are in your draft. (It pays to do this anyways, but especially at CC.)

So what else is different in SPC than other limited formats I may be used to?

Many of us have a strong background in prerelease formats, whether with the Classic “backups dull for any element” or with Simplified’s “backups may be played without matching their element,” and as we moved into drafting we took these rules with us. However, in competitive events typically these are not in effect. SPC at the Crystal Cups will not use them, so if you’re used to the flexibility of these rulesets it will pay to think critically about how to draft without them. These rules were designed to get around the unreliability of limited pools, however with six packs to draft from we can get much more stable builds than ever before, and no longer need them as a crutch to make functional decks.

It isn’t unreasonable at all to end up with a two element deck, or to have one or two minor splashes. What you want to focus on is a strong base in one or two elements. Make sure you have consistency. If going with a one element core with multiple secondary colors, bare minimum half your deck should be that element. Earth is a great core for Opus VII, as Shantotto and Moogle (FFCC) do a great job of keeping the rest of your deck consistent. When doing a two element core, splashing more than eight or nine cards is a dangerous prospect. I feel though that most of the time the strongest decks will be tight two element affairs with no splash. It is hard to beat the dependability they enjoy, and you need a good reason to deviate from that norm.

If you have previously drafted in the standard 4 player pods, doubling the player count will also affect things. Where before you would see each pack three times (12 cards divided by 4 players) now you will only see the first four packs a second time, and each of them will be very picked through. Wheeling a card around the table is almost impossible in SPC, so don’t ever rely on a card making it back. Even weaker cards are prone to being snapped up. Let’s say you start a draft taking Chelinka out of a pack with Latov in it. Someone very well might take Latov just to make sure he or she has enough sources of fire CP (also this would be a great signal that fire is not open and that you should be in a different element) To that end, if you see a great card make it all the way around the table, you have a strong signal that the card’s element is not well represented and you’ll likely get several strong cards late if you move into it.

Understanding Signals

I’ve wanted to discuss signalling for a while, and this seems to be a good time for it, since signalling is much more impactful in SPC than other limited formats. Since you are more constrained on how many elements you can play, splashing cards outside your primary elements is much more difficult, making it more important to stay away from what the people next to you are drafting. Zeroing in on which elements aren’t being taken by your neighbors will help you to make the strongest deck possible. Also, by understanding what signals you are sending, you will be able to better predict what elements will be open when the draft switches direction.

As a caveat, signals work best when you and the people around you have roughly the same estimation. If you value a card super high and the person passing it values it super low, you may get a false impression. As an example, Exdeath is my favorite R in o7, and if I get one pick 3 I assume no one passing to me is in lightning. But perhaps they just don’t like the card as much, or don’t like lightning in o7, or don’t like taking a backup early no matter how impactful it is. Reading signals is certainly more art than science, and the more you understand the people around you the better you will be at it. This also means if you draft with the same eight people several times, you may get a very insular idea of what is good. Drafting with a wide assortment of players, or even just discussing picks with them, will give you the best idea of the general valuations of the playerbase.

Reading incoming signals

As soon as pick 2 you can start thinking about what the player to your right took. If the H/L or the foil is missing, you can’t glean too much information. If there are still some very first pickable cards left in the pack, like Asmodai or Snow, you can assume it was either a strong bomb like Prishe or something with monetary value like a Chelinka (at an actual CC event it’s much more unlikely players will take cards for value, also the foils will be replaced with random normal cards, so if the “foil slot” has been taken it’s impossible to know what rarity the player took.) If a C or R is missing, though, you can often gauge against the strength of what’s left to see what it might have been. For example, pick 2 a C is gone, and the H is a strong card but not a complete bomb, something like Auron. Very likely the C was Ifrit, Yojimbo, or Ramuh.

As the picks go on, the presence of strong cards should be more and more of a signal, especially if they require a heavy investment into that element, like Baugauven. Receiving two valuable cards in a row from the same element should really make you take notice. The further into each pack you go, the more you should look at what elements still have reasonable cards in them. Gawain may not be a strong pick, but he’s still a 3cp 7k, and if you see one in the last three or four cards you’ve got a good sign that no one is looking at water.

Also keep in mind which elements you’re not seeing anything good from. If one pack is missing wind entirely, it’s likely wind is being drafted ahead of you. Now, it is possible that there actually weren’t any cards from that element in the pack to begin with, but if two or three come by with only garbage for wind, good chance wind is being taken highly.

Knowing what signals you’re giving

Once you decide what card to pick, it can be helpful to think for a moment before passing your pack. What will the person to your left think of this pack? What are they likely to take? If you can correctly predict their picks, you’ll know what they’re likely to cut when they’re passing back to you.

Let’s say at the start of a draft you open Galdes and foil The Emperor H with no other cards near their power level. You take Galdes and pass Emperor. Then next pack has a Ramuh in it. If you pass the Ramuh, the person to your left is almost guaranteed to move into lightning. You now have a vested interest in avoiding lightning. During packs 2, 4, and 6, the lightning player will spend several picks taking cards you wouldn’t have taken anyway, and hopefully leaving you with better options. It’s also helpful to keep track of other things, like if you pass Reynn you can expect to see very few WOFF monsters coming back your way.

If you know you’re going to commit heavy to an element, it may pay to take less strong cards if it means no cards of that element will be left in the pack. As an example, you start off a draft with Galuf Yojimbo Kolka and the fourth pack has a Monk as the only earth card, but also contains a Lulu. Taking Monk will eliminate the possibility that the person to your left takes an earth card, and likely puts them into fire, or at least heavily suggests it. Even if that person started off with an insane earth bomb, if no earth follows it’s likely he or she may switch off and pass earth to you.

Settling in on elements underrepresented by your neighbors greatly increases not only your average card quality, but also the chance that bombs they open get passed to you. If I open Dorgann pack six and have taken zero wind cards so far, I’m not about to move into a new element. That Dorgann is getting passed, and if you’re in wind then happy birthday to you.

Wrapping up

The major things to keep in mind are that, during the draft itself you have a lot of room for flexibility, but in deck construction you should really try to make things as consistent as possible. To this end, it is important to balance strong early picks with finding which elements you will get good cards late in. Focus on making your own deck better, rather than making other people’s decks worse. It’s ok to have a gameplan early in the draft, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it, or even to throw it in the trash if things aren’t going how you expect. You can absolutely salvage a bad start in the last three or four packs, if you find you’re being cut hard. Never be afraid to abandon your first picks.

Thanks for joining me on another edition of HowWL! Hope to see you again next month as Opus VIII releases for a full set review of each cards applications in sealed and draft