Today’s topic is something that’s been weighing on my mind to write an article about for a while, but has only really felt particularly noticeable to me as of Opus 13 with the amount of Sophie variants and the amount of card variations within the fifty that make up those decks. The topic is the value of individual card slots. Optimising your deck to make every card count and be the best at its particular role. It’s nothing new, but with Sophie I definitely feel like people are scratching their heads. It’s not unusual for a particular package to fit into a number of element combinations, as we’ve seen with FFTA for example, with Marche Ritz fitting into not only its base combination of Fire/Wind, but also Earth/Fire and more.

What I find unusual is the amount of variations in card choice between the same archetype and element combination. Earth/Water/Ice for example, employing Nimbus as the off-colour ‘boss’ of choice is currently quite popular. While the core Sophie package remains the same throughout, the individual’s choice of secondary packages or tech cards is more varied than I’m used to. So many cards seem viable (especially with access to a third element) that it only makes it harder to figure out which are most optimal.

Now you might be thinking ‘it’s still early days, people are still experimenting, it sometimes takes months to get these things perfect.’ Which is true, and a deck worked on for months can be perfect one event and then a meta shift makes it imperfect the next. TCGs are always in flux. However, part of the competitive game is making your deck stand out even if it’s just for one tournament. So many elements factor into that, and I just feel like the Sophie archetype has developed so much more than any other over such a small space of time that it makes me particularly interested to cover the topic of deck optimisation.

I am very much a nitpicker as a player in all aspects. I try to question everything because if I don’t then I get lazy, or I miss things. I’ve sat in hotel rooms before major events pouring over my 50th card like the world depends on it. I try to question every decision I’m about to make during a game and try to think up all the random possibilities for what might happen next. I try to do this in as short a space of time as possible then usually try to calculate the most mathematically sound decision. I ask questions people might consider small, pointless, or pedantic, because I always wonder if there could be something better. I think this has always made me avoid anything too ‘cute’ in terms of deckbuilding, often trading creativity for consistency to the point that some of my decks might look incredibly boring. I found myself doing more of this as I’ve been looking over the various Sophie lists at my disposal belonging to those who were preparing for the RVA Centennial this past weekend, or just those intended for general play.

Now deckbuilding is obviously very intricate. For some it’s the best part of a TCG, for others they’d rather leave it to someone more interested. Even if you’re primarily a netdecker, it’s pretty much guaranteed you look at a successful decklist you intend to try out and question particular card choices. When you take an already successful deck to then test yourself, the answer is less important. You’ll find out after enough games. It’s different for the person who built it/took it to success. Even though they get to test it themselves in advance, when it’s new and unproven there is always a certain degree of doubt to whether you’re making the right call. A degree of doubt to whether that is the best use of one of your limited 50 slots.

Sometimes, even when you are successful, some of those choices proved not to be the best, as you rarely need the ‘perfect’ 50 to win, because deck building is only a portion of winning. The important thing is being able to identify afterwards whether you actually did make the right call. That’s the hard part, as both the person who built the deck, and also anyone who tries it out for themselves. A card can even feel good on the day, maybe because it’s just in the right place at the right time, and still not be right. There are a lot of polarising cards that are amazing in some cases and useless in a lot of others. Best example I have right now is Opus 13’s Behemoth K. If it’s a tight game, five damage a piece, any big card can make the difference. You topdeck Behemoth K then your brain is gonna light up and you might leave the table thinking it’s the best card ever. Sometimes the positive memory of success will completely squash the memories of the time it was the worst card in your hand. In that sense, being a good critical thinker in terms of deck building requires a pretty heavy (and sometimes inhuman) degree of non-bias. Having said that, there are plenty of cards similar to Behemoth K that might carry the game in that sort of circumstance and still be the right call for the deck. On the flip side, sometimes a great card has a really bad day and you think you’re going mad questioning something that was so good for you before.

I was having a conversation recently regarding Sophie about the quantity of net 0CP 5ks in the deck. When they’re paired together they can do great things, but if you have the wrong pairs or they’re alone in your hand then an army of Black Belts can do you in. This leads to a further conversation about the ratios of small combo pieces compared to individual bulky threats and removal (for example, the number of Nichols and luxury 2CP forwards compared to the number of cards like Agrias, Nimbus, even Braska’s Final Aeon). 

Now, it’s really fun to pop off with a bunch of little things – especially in Sophie – and draw 20 cards and deal a point of damage in the end phase because then you can tell all your mates ‘I did the thing, bruv’. Sometimes you get too drunk on that idea and start to alter your deck to accommodate it better, then get left scratching your head when you have a handful of combo pieces without the whole combo. Worse yet, sometimes you have the combo but then your opponent still plays through it, then you’re begging your deck to give you the self-sufficient big boi that you just cut to make room for more weenies.

Ran’jit is a great example to illustrate the above. I love Ran’jit because he’s so boring. He doesn’t have synergy with anything, requires nothing more than a source of Fire CP, and then does exactly one job, which is to incinerate anything with 8,000 power or less. So why did I keep cutting him from early builds that could include him? The simple answer is that without synergy and without directly assisting my endgame plan, it made sense at the time to swap him for cards that did have synergy so I could get a better idea of whether the endgame was any good. Problem there is not only do you sometimes condition yourself to think that this very good card is an easy cut, you trick yourself into thinking your deck is tournament ready because ‘the combo is consistent’ or something. You then sit down at a tournament and don’t draw the combo, or your opponent has the answer, or they have a forward you gotta kill before you start popping off. You don’t have a fallback plan, or a stopgap between ‘not dying’ and ‘doing the cool thing’. That’s when you remember ol’ Ran, or something like him in a different element. You go home, lay your deck out on the table and just stare at it. Ran’jit has to go in, what do I cut?

“Well MrCool, I can’t cut ‘X’ because it’s Wave 1, and when I played it to the field, the way the sun was shining through the window behind me reflected off the unusual foiling and blinded my opponent, therefore giving me the win. If it was another card then, well, it woulda been really tricky.”

Yeah, okay, that’s fairly unlikely to happen to begin with, but be harsh in your critique. Don’t be biased because it won you a game, and honestly the most important thing of all is to ask yourself this: ‘Yeah, when I played it I won the game, but would I have still won without it, even if it had taken longer and been more difficult?’ I really need to drive that home because that can really help you see the difference between necessity and luxury. Sophie is a great example of ‘This is my ace and there are games I cannot win without her.’ Obvious example perhaps, because it’s been a month and we’re still naming the entire archetype after her, but then that gives us some links to look at it. Sarah (Mobius) and Nichol are the two main ones. They both buff Sophie more than most on-element forwards (4k from Sarah, 3k from Nichol), and they can both draw a card. However, Nichol requires the pairing of another multi-element, Sarah doesn’t. Even in this example, it doesn’t mean Sarah is always better or more worth the slot (or that they are even competing with each other), but that’s a simple breakdown that covers the golden rule: How much effort do I have to put into this card to make it good, and how worthwhile is the payoff for the effort? I’ll use Nichol again.

Thaumaturge is a 0CP 1k and he is banned. If I give you a lollipop and ask for nothing in return then that is ‘free’. They are the same, free is good! On his own, Nichol is a 2CP 5k ‘do nothing’, which is bad. When you follow him with a multi-element he draws a card. We can equate this to +2CP to make him a 0CP 5k. 0CP is free, free is good! But he wasn’t actually free, as there was a deck building cost paid in advance. So Nichol’s worth is based on:-

  • Number of multi-element forwards in your deck.
  • Frequency of playing multi-element forwards onto the board
  • The likelihood of having Nichol and a multi-element forward to play at the same time (in order to guarantee value)
  • The likelihood of Nichol surviving to gain more value (meta dependent)
  • The cost to your opponent of removing Nichol on the precedent that Nichol getting more value is bad for them.

There’s more, but hopefully you get the idea. So many things to consider based on one card, right? It goes further than that. Once you decide on if a card is worth playing, you then have to figure out how many copies. That conversation probably needs its own article. I for one have a big preference for as few one-offs as possible. A neat deck list of twos and threes makes me smile, but there’s regularly a place for one-offs. Sometimes a card will over perform at one or two copies and you decide to bump it up, then you start seeing it too much and it looks a bit naff. The process is fickle, you rarely get the results you expect, but that doesn’t make it any less important to figure out. What is that one card doing? Can something do it better? Do you need to do that ‘thing’ at all? If you can think of a question to ask, ask it. Never be afraid that something sounds too minor. Assign a score to each pro and con if you really want and tally it up on a chalkboard to find an answer. Do what works for you, but remember to actually do it. Until next time, remember to Stay Cool.