Japan Cup 2019
Hello to the wonderful FFTCG community, my name is Alex Hancox, sometimes referred to as MrCool. I recently flew out to Japan with Square Enix Europe’s Organised Play Manager Tim to participate in the Japan Cup. The Cup was a three-day event with a mixture of constructed and draft to celebrate Golden Week in Japan, where the Top 4 would qualify for the Masters Final (Japan National Championship). The constructed portion required two-decks, similar to the 2018 European Championship format, but had a number of key differences! Firstly, players were unable to split cards with the same serial number across both of their decks. So for example, you could not play two copies of the popular Veritas of the Dark in one deck, and then also play a third copy in your second deck. The second change is that the swiss was played entirely in best of one, so you would mark each deck (A) or (B) and play (A) for rounds 1-3, and (B) for rounds 4-6.
After the initial six rounds, the Top 48 players would be split into 6 pods of 8 based on their current score, so 1st-8th, 9th-16th, and so on. Each pod would then do a five-pack draft similar to the Top 32 of the European Crystal Cups. However, you would only play against people in your same pod, which made it not only important to build a good deck for yourself, but also not give away certain powerful cards, regardless of whether or not those cards were in the elements you intended to play. As it was only three rounds, each pod would have a definitive winner.
After the first draft, players were again seated according to their score for a second draft, which meant those who had started off towards the bottom tables would be rewarded for performing well by moving to a higher table. While this usually meant tougher competition, it would also improve tiebreakers and give you a better chance to top on a lower score.
After the second draft, the Top 12 players would be assembled, with the Top 4 getting first round wins and advancing directly to the Top 8. The Top 12 would be Best of Three with both constructed decks, more on that later…
To give a brief outline of our trip, Tim and I arrived in Tokyo on Thursday 25th April after a 12 hour flight from London (the tournament would be from 27th-29th), so naturally we had pretty hefty jet-lag, and hadn’t gotten much sleep on the plane. We made our way to Nagoya on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) the following day, finding moments to prepare our decks in between. Tim had brought something like 11 decks with him, though was fairly set on Ice/Earth and Water/Wind, while I was fairly set on Ice/Water and Mono Wind. However, the night before while testing Mono Wind, I found myself to be playing unusually poorly, and making basic errors that I knew wouldn’t help my chances in the tournament. Honestly I was quite nervous, as this was not only my first time playing in an almost entirely Japanese tournament, but I wanted to represent the UK well as World Champion. As the World Championship has yet to contain more than four Japanese players, I felt I had only seen a fragment of what this nation was capable of, and even then I had been very impressed.
While I thought Mono Wind had a strong Earth/Wind matchup, which I expected to be the most popular deck at the event from the tournament results I had seen online from other Japanese events, I decided to switch to Wind/Water. Due to the nature of Valefor and its combo potential with cards like Fina, as well as the holy trinity of Yuna/Rikku/Paine, I thought I might have an easier time winning certain games simply through the natural power of these card combinations, as Mono Wind usually has to work a bit harder. Also, the high EX burst count gave my luck a chance to fill the gaps where my experience was lacking. This would also be my first time playing an event with someone else’s deck, as the list came from my friend Robert Phillips, with a few of my own minor alterations. The main thing is that there was naturally some clash over the Water cards between the two decks I had chosen, like Porom, Merlwyb, and Yuna. Here are the lists I used:
The Wind/Water took priority over the Water cards, so in Water/Ice Porom became Kuja, Merlwyb became Gramps, and Yuna became Artemicion and Scholar. These turned out to be useful changes, as Kuja became a key card in the deck over the event, primarily for clearing backups so I can play more. Playing with the Wind/Water was an interesting experience, as I noticed quite quickly what changes I would like to make and how my natural playstyle might clash with how the deck was intended to play. I was more comfortable with the Water/Ice with it being my own creation.
As for my plan for the tournament, normally in multi-deck I will lead with my strongest deck, primarily for the advantage that winning the first game guarantees you going first if you reach a third game. As this was best of one, I went with the assumption that players would save their best deck for the later rounds, as the earlier rounds should theoretically be easier and games will get harder as the tournament progresses. This led me to start with Ice/Water, as I expected people to save Earth/Wind for second and I thought Wind/Water would have a better matchup.
I sat down for Round 1 I shuffled up and kept my fingers crossed for some backups. Winning the first game is a good confidence builder, and I didn’t particularly want to lose it after coming all the way to Japan! You can imagine how horrified I was when I stared at an opening hand where the best play was Serah S, and I was going second! Thankfully, a turn 1 Semih Lafihna followed by Y’shtola from my opponent led to my otherwise useless Veritas being very handy, and the follow-up Dadaluma made Rinoa even more enticing. As my opponent never drew Shantotto I managed to just about squeeze through. I won’t go into detail, but the next couple of rounds were a lot better, starting me off 3-0 with wins versus Earth/Wind, Mono Earth, and Mono Water. While I had started off versus Earth/Wind, the other two matchups were favourable for Water/Ice, giving me a lot of confidence for the next three rounds.
That confidence was shattered when I opened with Aleria against my Round 4 opponent, who then did me the great honour of playing Zidane L into Belias, The Gigas, only to be blown out by my otherwise useless Valefor, which also denied the draw from Belias. It was quite impressive how two otherwise terrible openers from me had led to even worse for my opponent. The next two games I wasn’t as lucky however, drawing next to no backups and even being forced to play Yuri turn 1 against another Mono Earth deck. While disappointed that my strong start had led to a poor finish, it was certainly more exciting going into the draft without a big safety net.
I started in Pod 2 for the draft, while Tim who had finished Day 1 on 5-1 started in Pod 1. Draft is a lot of fun to talk about, as it opens up a whole new array of gameplay possibilities and really rewards you for being sharp. The way I see draft is this: the players on the right and left are most important, as they are the players who you are actually drafting with. The players next to them are less important, though you will see their packs earlier so they can sometimes make or break your draft depending on their element choices. The other 3 players don’t matter, as they’re too far away to get any kind of read, and their packs will always be half empty by the time they reach you. Now I had Harigai on my right, who placed 3rd in the 2018 World Championship, so I expected him to be stronger than the player on my left. While this was somewhat correct, Harigai still passed me cards, like Jinnai, that I would never let another player have if I could help it. As you start by passing to the left, I would effectively draft 3 packs with Harigai and 2 packs with the other chap. I quickly gauged that the player next to Harigai was on Fire, so I focused on getting Lightning cards from that side and Fire from my left. Fire is my – and generally anyone’s – ideal main element in Opus 8 draft, due to the amount of removal and forwards that also do damage, but this also tends to make it the most contested. I was lucky in this instance, and also lucky to get such a powerful second element in Lightning, which works well with Fire anyway but also contains a number of strong cards (like the Jinnai I was passed). This strategy ended with me building a deck that was both strong and consistent, and I proceeded to go 3-0 against Tri-colour Wind focus, Mono Water, and Fire/Ice. This performance bumped me up to Pod 1 for the second draft, which effectively secured me into Top 12 with just one more win.
The second pod was a lot harder. I managed to get Fire again, but this time with Ice. It sounds good, but I actually wasn’t getting passed a lot of good cards from either element. Again, the player on my left was passing me some strong cards, but I was getting only the basics for the two elements from my right. On my right was the Mono Earth player I had beaten in Round 2, who hadn’t dropped another game since. I found out afterwards that he had practically finished his deck by pack 4, and spent the majority of pack 5 denying me every fire card he could muster. A worthwhile strategy as I finished with a much weaker deck. I had well over 10 EX bursts, but relying on luck led me to finish 1-2 in the second pod, after not drawing many forwards outside of Lasswell in the third game as I didn’t have many in the deck to begin with.
In both pods I actually ended with 38 cards for my two chosen elements, and both times had the option to simply throw in Gramps and Fairy as EX bursts to make 40, or cut down on the slightly weaker cards and fit a very small third element package in. Both times I went with the latter, utilising a late-picked Lasswell in Draft 1, and a Fina in Draft 2, both of which had been mainly intended as counter picks, because the cards are simply too strong to let anyone else have them.
So I finished the Swiss on 8-4, as did Tim, our strong tiebreakers securing us as 7th and 9th seed. We were given the decklists on Sunday evening, as the Top 12 would play on Monday. I would start off against MK.2 (Japanese players use handles rather than real names) with Water/Lightning aggro and Earth Wind. Tim built our opponent’s decks to help practice, and while I could see the burst potential of the Water/Lightning I figured both of my decks had a strong matchup. This was good, as the benefit of two-deck format is only needing to beat the weaker deck twice, which meant I had less to worry about from the Earth/Wind. For all of Top Cut, I went with an old ‘trick’ from 2017 Worlds of letting my opponent randomly choose my deck, if only because I didn’t want the headache of overthinking it myself. Ironically I ended up getting the matchups I wanted every time.
For this event, the losing player was not forced to switch decks for the second game, which meant I never saw MK.2’s Wind/Earth deck, as I beat his Water/Lightning twice. His early aggression was never really threatening enough, though he did do some cool tricks with Zidane L and Electric Jellyfish. I got a little sloppy with the Water/Ice towards the end, but the Water/Wind finally drew backups, and a sweet Valefor combo put me into Top 8. Tim also advanced in a nail-biting 3-game match.
For Top 8 I once again played the Mono Earth player from Round 2, who was sporting his own Water/Ice deck centred around Agrias. The Water/Wind got very lucky in this game, as while he opened very aggressively with Agrias, he hit a lot of draw EX bursts that mitigated the damage from the follow up Sephiroth R. On one turn he attacked and hit two EX, allowing me the CP necessary to cast Diabolos and break Sephiroth and his Zidane S. After that it was the case of playing Yuri and keeping him alive until he ran out of steam. He went with Water/Ice again for the second game, and while I knew he was playing Leila Viking, I opted to keep a hand with Veritas for if he simply opened Agrias again. He did, but also played Leila first, and Agrias found Eiko for Garland (IX) which proceeded to attack my backups every turn so that I never really stabilised. Game 3 I knew would be a rematch against the Mono Earth, which I was confident in due to Water and Ice’s natural strengths against Earth. However, he drew his single Vanille which made all my Veritas and Famfrits worthless. Thankfully a nice Kuja EX put one forward out of commission, and some more dull/freeze action paired with Snow R allowed me to simply go over his forwards rather than fight through them.
Top 4 saw me rematch against Kakka, Japan’s sole two-time World Championship representative who was still seeking redemption after our two encounters at the 2017 Championship. He led with Earth Wind vs my Wind/Water, and a very enjoyable match sees a lot of board swings and some very close shaves. He knocks two Yuris into my damage, and I somewhat overcommit on a Fina combo to clear his entire board, discarding a Paine S I probably should have held onto. My Y’shtola cancel is forced out by Diabolos, which is then followed by Shantotto, and unfortunately I can’t muster a strong enough board to stop him decking me out in response.
In the second game with Fire/Ice against Ice/Water, he begins with his signature Gestahlian Empire Cid into Locke into Sage going second, leaving him without a hand, but a must answer threat and two different element backups. I play Veritas and Rinoa, putting me in a good spot, but fail to follow up with more answers and allow him to build back up and play the powerful Lasswell. On my last turn, I have the option to either play Cloud of Darkness to clear his Lasswell, which gives him lethal with exactly Glasya Labolas, another Lasswell, and Belias, the Gigas. If I instead wait to play the Famfrit I drew on his turn so I can Lunafreya back my Rinoa to use Veritas again, I’ll lose to exactly Celes’ S Ability, Runic, if he draws his 3rd copy. I take what I believe to be calculated risk, and get dunked on by Lasswell, Glasya, and Belias. Kakka then goes on to win, so it’s cool, I get a trophy anyway and I get to say I came 3rd because I lost to the winner. That’s how it works, right?
Both getting to play against the Japanese players and also play in a very exciting format I hope we can implement in the West was a joy. On a personal note, I was glad to be able to hold my own and prove to myself that while the Japanese were as strong as I expected, their talents matched up with some of the strongest European players that I am fortunate to play against on a regular basis. The mixture of draft and constructed that we’re seeing from Organised Play this year is a refreshing change and certainly makes the tournaments more exciting to compete in. It was also nice to see Japan adopt the two-deck format for the event after its success at the European Championship. I am grateful for the opportunity to compete and return to a country I had enjoyed so much the first time around, and hope you have enjoyed reading this little report and are itching to try out more ways to play this great game, like draft and multi-deck formats.
Until next time, Stay Cool.