Arizona Crystal Cup Top 16 Mono Fire Report – Patrick Panattoni

Arizona Crystal Cup Top 16 Mono Fire Report - Patrick Panattoni

Hello, my name is Patrick Panattoni and I am a local Arizona player who just played in the Earth Crystal Cup this last weekend. I have been playing FFTCG since around Opus 2, and I started to play competitively around Opus 4. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mono Fire, but I have played a variety of other decks competitively. However, none of those other decks ever managed to be as much fun to play as Mono Fire always was to me. Building a board state while simultaneously putting your opponent behind feels really good and puts you two steps ahead of your opponent, and many strong meta/played cards do this as well.

As the game progressed, Mono Fire steadily became weaker until Opus IX due to the growing power levels of every other element. The release of a few FFXIV supporting cards in Opus IX boasted a power level high enough to stand on their own in comparison to fire cards in the past few sets, which were often over costed or under powered for the effects that they provided. This isn’t to say that there were never good fire cards printed in each set, but more that fire never really had a strong enough engine to build around in order to do the things that fire cards were trying to do efficiently.

As for my performance during the Earth Crystal Cup: I finished Swiss 5-2 while starting off strong in draft 2-0; ultimately ending 2-2 and finishing Top 16 overall. This write-up is more of a testament that Mono Fire isn’t as weak as people think it is. I felt that this Crystal Cup had a lot of strong players and a variety of strong decks that have held their place in the meta throughout the lifespan of FFTCG.

Before getting into the deck and Swiss rounds, I wanted to shout out and thank fellow Arizona players: Josh Gardner, Emmanuel Onate, along with Larry and Cassie Zink. Josh Gardner has really supported the game for a long time in Arizona and he has also elevated the Arizona scene in terms of competitiveness. Emmanuel Onate and I bounced a lot of ideas about each of our decks to each other in the weeks before the Crystal Cup, and of course play tested quite a few of these changes. Cassie and Larry Zink also have always gone the extra mile to really support the game and run many of our local events as well helping to run the Crystal Cup, and for that I’m sure that everyone in our local scene is as appreciative of them as I am.

Deck

Ffdecks Link: https://ffdecks.com/deck/5967774952194048

Forward(33):

1 Jecht (7-010L)

1 Ranger (4-009C)

1 Luneth (5-024H)

1 Duncan (8-014L)

3 Rhitahtyn (9-020R)

3 Lyse (8-139S)

3 Marche (8-018R)

3 Cloud (8-006L)

3 Gaius (9-007H)

3 Nael (9-014L)

3 Sabin (8-019C)

3 Hien (8-138S)

3 Iroha (8-004R)

2 Firion (7-132S)

Backup(17):

1 Black Waltz 2 (3-015R)

3 Fusilier (9-013C)

1 Shadow (9-012C)

2 Vivi (3-018C)

2 Gosetsu (8-137S)

3 Lebreau (1-030R)

1 Montblanc (4-022R)

2 Edgar (8-005C)

2 Yotsuyu (8-020R)

The general idea for this deck is big red dudes, playing to one of the strengths and sub-themes fire has an element. Combined with the overall uselessness and 1 card for 1 card trades that almost all fire summons not named Belias or Phoenix cause, the deck  further capitalizes on playing lots of big cheap forwards by way of Nael. By constantly drawing forwards or backup removal, pressure can constantly be applied to the opponent in way of just having a board state. Additionally, many of the auto abilities on fire forwards and backups are reminiscent of the summons, except they build a board state whereas a summon is just sent to the break zone after doing its job, it can’t deal/block damage and it doesn’t produce CP or have ongoing abilities.

A forward being even 1K larger than your opponent’s biggest forward means that your opponent can no longer attack or block safely into that forward without risking losing a forward for free. The cost of increasing a forward’s power relative to the “curve” of forwards being 8K for 4CP and 9K for 5CP is 1CP:1K, whereas your opponent playing a combat trick or removal spell is often times much larger than 1CP. For example,  your opponent uses a Cuchulain (2-133R) backed by Yuna (1-177R) for a total of 3CP + 2CP (card in hand) – 2CP (card drawn) for a total of 3CP to allow a 7K to kill an 9K in combat. Generally, that increase in power is matched by the increase cost, but the player that blocked with the 9K forward actually gained 1CP in advantage over the opponent. This advantage is further extended when a forward such as Rhitahtyn is above the curve relative to its cost, as Rhitahtyn effectively has 1CP of advantage built in at the cost of having a restriction. Obviously, there are many more things to consider such as the momentum swing of the game and other abilities of forwards, but this is just an example to showcase how a forward having even 1K power over another can actually give advantage in both board state and CP.

This concept is further capitalized in this deck, where the true cost of the forward is rather small in comparison to its printed CP cost and power: CP ratio. Additionally, by being able to utilize the keyword Brave on several forwards more damage can be pushed through in order to get to the ideal point of having your opponent on 6 points of damage, where all forwards gain the auto ability: This forward must be blocked. This puts your opponent on a huge back-foot as they now have to essentially chump block your large forwards, or 2 for 1 themselves every time they want to stop an attack.

The Key Cards:

Sabin(8-019C): This card was honestly amazing all throughout the day, it set up so much removal on my opponent’s forwards by just existing, and yet at the same time it is not nearly enough of a threat to waste removal on. Attacking with a forward is free, and there are plenty of opportunities to attack in a game such as when forwards are dulled or smaller than Sabin. Every time he attacks, Sabin creates approximately 2CP in value if he is backed by Edgar by dealing 4000 damage to any target. Comparatively, Vivi deals 5000 for 2CP + 2CP (card in hand) and is much less of a neutral play than just playing a 2CP forward to the field. Combined with so many removal options in fire, Sabin pushes damage while destroying/trading with forwards much larger than himself or clearing a board of small forwards.

Gaius/Rhitahtyn: When I first saw these cards I wasn’t too impressed, but after playing with them more I realized that the XIV combo pinging from Gaius is similar to Sabin, in that you get value off of a “Free” action, which is playing a card that you were going to play anyway. Similarly, Rhitahtyn is an absolute beast by having keyword Brave along with 7000 power for a measly 2CP. The power boosts in this deck often result in Rhitahtyn being a brave 8-10K that only cost 2CP. Your opponent can’t get around him very easily and if they do, they have spent removal on a 2CP forward, guaranteeing a CP advantage in an element that does not get lots of CP as easily as elements such as wind or water. Also, the S ability is sometimes relevant, as it then forces removal on Rhitahtyn or removal of the targeted forward.

Nael: Everyone knows that this card is strong, but it gets even stronger when its average cost is 4CP below the printed cost. A 4CP forward with 9K base power and exceptional abilities is strong, what do you know. The pressure and game ending power that this card exerts by just being on board makes it a very quick removal target, freeing up the surprisingly real threats such as Sabin and Hien to remain alive and swinging.

Hien/Iroha: Similar to the discussion before, getting a 1CP below cost 9K is actually very strong, combined with Brave and Hien’s on attack ability, the other forwards in the deck get too large to reasonably deal with. Hien being a category XIV allows for an easy way to play out Rhitahtyn and pressure the opponent with 2 large and Brave forwards, as well as be a trigger for Gaius. Iroha on the other hand is in my opinion one of the strongest cards in mono fire, for a similar reason as to why Chelinka is very strong while only affecting FFCC characters. This means that even Sabin is able to easily trade up into 7/8Ks and deal 5K to a forward on his own. Empowering Gaius further enables some great late game removal in the form of playing 1-2 forwards and some other removal to easily combo into 9K or more damage to forwards. If Iroha has been out for a turn and your opponent tries to break her in response to save their forward, a response of her action ability allows for your removal to retain its value until resolution and for the opponent to lose value in essentially wasted removal.

Cards that Could be changed:

Duncan: This card was only thrown in for the extra Sabin support and O1 Firion effect and was basically never played due to the large cost of the burn, as other cards could be played to more cheaply remove forwards. Additionally, many of the matches were control matchups where I had to go aggro, so this card was almost always discarded. Could easily be replaced with a 2nd Ranger or 3rd Firion, or a Guy/Ayame as detailed below.

Luneth(5-024H): Essentially a worse Lyse, despite the power boost it was almost always discarded to make a better/more aggressive play depending on the matchup. Against aggro matchups, my forwards were already big enough and backed by removal, and in control matchups it’s too slow to do anything meaningful, especially when better forwards are constantly being drawn. There could be arguments for it to stay however, and I’m not really sure what I’d replace it with. I never tested the deck with Ark Angel HM, and it could be a good 1 of when backed by power boosts and other threatening forwards.

Cards that Didn’t make the Cut:

Emperor Xande: Having played Mono Fire for so long, I really wanted this card to work in this deck as a Mono Fire payoff card and I just always found it to be too slow in any meta past Opus V, despite the great on attack and BZ abilities. Sabin basically does the main part of what I want Xande to do, which is to get value off of a free action (attacking) combined with other removal pieces to build my board state and put my opponent’s board state behind.

Guy (6-003H): I really wanted to include this card as another Braver, as his second line of text basically gives all of your other forwards brave and can counteract ice dulling and freezing if he is somehow taken out. He goes great with Hien, kind of like Rhitahtyn where Hien is too big to block and makes your other bravers even harder to defend against on your turn. I probably need to test this card more as its probably the best fire card with Brave printed on it that isn’t in this deck. Alternatively, Ayame 5-002R could fit into the same slot for the Samurai synergy with Hien and Iroha but I still think that Guy is the better choice overall.

Swiss

Before getting into this I just wanted to make a quick note that these are mainly the key points from each round, and that if some things seem like they don’t make sense its because I was writing these matchups from memory several days later.

Round 1 vs Earth/Wind - Win

Starting out this first round I won the dice roll and go first. I drew 5 into 2 2 cost backups, Shadow 9-012C and Edgar 8-005C. Not knowing what my opponent is playing yet and having Sabin 8-019C in hand, I decide to give myself options and play out both the 2 cost backups. My opponent takes their turn, with a slow start of 3 cards into Star Sibyl, finding the Kam’lanaut. I take my next turn and draw into Gaius and decide to play out the Sabin to start applying early pressure, as I know that my opponent will most likely play Kam the following turn. My opponent cracks the Star Sibyl to play Kam and fetch Chaos, followed up by playing the Chaos as well as a Mog (XI). I draw for turn and with my opponent having so few cards in hand I decide to play out the Gaius and Rhitahtyn combo to deal 6k damage to Kam, and combo it with the on hit effect from Sabin to kill the Kam before blocks. Securing me a point of damage and several threatening forwards with no recourse from a Shantotto for at least one more turn. My opponent took their turn playing out a Minfilia L and passing. The next turn I drew into a Nael, drawing me an Iroha and Hien after getting in for 3 points of damage, however a Cecil EX destroyed my Sabin and a Vincent 9-062H the following turn sent Gaius to the break zone. The next turn an Emperor Gestahl came down, removing the Nael, followed by an Aerith L. However, the combination of a Hien, Iroha and Rhitahtyn were able to punch through the Aerith and finish out the game 1-7, with the opponent on 5 backups to my 2.

Round 2 vs EX Scions - Loss

Losing the roll this time, I was going second, and I opened a very non-neutral hand consisting of Vivi 3-018C, Black Waltz 2 3-015R, Cloud 8-006L, Firion 7-132S and an Iroha 8-004R. I decide to mulligan this as it is basically unplayable in the first few turns of the game, despite having 2 backups. The mulligan results in a playable hand with only a Fusilier 9-013C. For my first turn I draw 2 cards and see no more backups, so I play out the Fusilier as a 2CP evoker and pass back my turn, also noting that I am playing against EX Scions. The Scion player started out pretty slow as well fortunately, opening in the first few turns with Minfilia 5-160S, Alisaie 5-161S and one of the other Scion backups that I can’t seem to remember. Unfortunately for me the next turn I still don’t draw any backups and my only play is to begin applying pressure by playing out an Iroha and tossing a card for a Sabin 8-019C. Continuing later on into the game the damage was approximately 2-5, but I ran into several EX bursts such as Atomos 4-073C and 2x Zeromus that took out Sabin, a Nael, and Firion 7-132S, netting my opponent card advantage and removing the few bodies I needed to finish out the game. The EX bursts weren’t entirely one sided as I had also hit a Gosetsu and Marche 8-018R on the few damage I had taken, but by this time the advantage my opponent gained from having backups was starting to outmatch the pressure I was able to apply and I started bleeding damage as my opponent built a wider board that I was unable to efficiently remove. Late into the game I also started seeing many of the backups that I didn’t see early on and I was unable to match my opponents’ forwards and removal, allowing them to close out the game 7-5 with my loss.

Round 3 vs Agrias Ice/Water/Lightning - Win

For this game I ended up winning the roll again and went first, mulling into a playable hand with a Gosetsu and Edgar. Turn 1 I drew into Sabin and played out the Edgar. My opponent opened aggressively, and I can’t remember if they played Merlywb 4-138R or Agrias 7-106L, but there was an Agrias and a searcher backup out on their turn 1. I decided to plan ahead a bit and play out the Sabin with a drawn Hien, and then played out the Gosetsu to grab back another Hien into hand. My opponent followed up by swinging with Agrias, triggering the second Gosetsu finding me the last Hien in my deck, as well as playing a Brahne (Water) to fetch Viking 4-133C. Having Edgar on the back row and a dulled Agrias allowed my Sabin to swing in for a point of damage and deal 4k to the Agrias, followed up by a Vivi 3-018C allowed me to efficiently build a backup and kill a forward while progressing my board state. In any kind of aggro matchup, Fire’s abundance of EX bursts and efficient and cheap ping effects allows for great board control against any deck running small forwards. From this point on my opponent played out Leila/Viking but Sabin made short work of Leila and my opponent opted for the card draw with Viking as I continued to simultaneously apply pressure, remove weenies, and build my board state. As the game progressed my opponent played another Agrias followed by a Rinoa 6-041L, but several ping effects backed by Iroha later the 7K bodies were gone and I continued to apply pressure for the eventual victory using the suite of FFXIV big bodies in Mono Fire.

Round 4 vs Ice/Earth - Win

Going second this game, my opponent opened with 2 backups, notably one of these was a Gumbah. In response I opted for a Montblanc 4-022R followed by a Gosetsu and Hien the following turns. However, my opponent must have been stuck on backups because they started playing forwards and applying pressure with dulls/freezes and a nifty Vincent 9-062H/Gumbah combo as I continued to play more backups and deal damage with a brave Hien/Rhitahtyn. My opponent continued to apply pressure pushing the game to 6-4, but an EX Marche on the 6th point of damage allowed me to grab the Red Power Ranger 4-009C with a Nael already on board. I then top-decked Jecht 7-010L the following turn, causing a finisher turn of Jecht for 1CP to deal a point of damage, followed by the haste ranger and Nael I already had on board for game. The top deck was not very relevant however, as my opponent was whittled down to a Rinoa L and 1 backup to my 5 backups and other forwards in hand.

Round 5 vs Ice/Fire - Win

Going first again, I opted to play out an Edgar from hand while my opponent opted for 2 backups. Knowing that the Ice/Fire matchup doesn’t have big enough bodies or wide enough removal for my forwards I opted to play out Iroha and Hien early to begin applying pressure without Gosetsu. With this pressure on the front row I was able to play out an early Nael off of 2 backups to keep the pressure going, as Lebreau 1-030R kept my forwards too large to deal with. This early pressure forced my opponent to also bring out a Nael and reduce themselves to 1 backup. From that point on the advantage from my backups combined with early pressure was too much and I ended up sealing the game out with a plethora of big bodies on the field.

Round 6 vs Ice/Water - Win

Fire has a huge advantage over Vicekings as almost all of the forwards are 7k or smaller and I managed the early aggression and dull/freezes with Vivi, Fusilier, Sabin, and Firion to easily remove the small bodies and start getting through for points of damage. Eventually I played out Hien backed by a Gosetsu and my opponent was forced to play out a Nidhogg on the 10K Hien while only on 3 backups. The game was finished by playing a Gaius into Rhitahtyn followed up by Sabin attacking to deal a total of 10K to Nidhogg, allowing for Sabin to swing through for fatal.

Round 7 vs Mono Water – Loss

My opponent ended up going first and I kept my starting hand consisting of Ranger and Gosetsu, however I stupidly threw away my only copy of Ranger after seeing 2 water backups go down, instead of tossing something more replaceable in order to play out the Gosetsu turn 1. Knowing that I lose the long game, and the efficiency of water forwards relying on 3 or 5 backups I decided to play the game on 2 backups, opting for early aggression. This forced my opponent to play out an early Ultros, which replaced itself once, and eventually a Cagnazzo, which Yotsuyu helped my smaller forwards to get around. However, 4 damage was stopped by 2 sets of Leila/Viking, and the game ultimately ended on my opponent being 4 cards left in deck and on 5 damage but swinging for game with 2 7K Knights 3-139C. The Ranger that I threw away turn 1 would have ultimately ended the game with my win much earlier than the loss caused by aggressive Nael plays and a Veritas from my opponent, whittling my board in the final turns to a single Lebreau.

Conclusion

Being one of the few major tournaments I’ve attended, I was actually really proud of my performance in the Swiss portion. Running Mono Fire and winning games was such a blast, so many of my opponents seemed shocked that they lost to it and I hope that it inspired them to think outside of the box when it comes to deck-building and the meta game as people know it. Final Fantasy is a pretty small game and very balanced, so I think that there are a lot of unexplored archetypes that haven’t really been put through enough testing and refinement to see where they can really peak at.

I hope this article inspires both veterans and newer players to give Mono Fire a chance, as I think it’s a really fun and strong element that people have put off as the joke element of FFTCG. I’m looking forward to what the next sets bring to Mono Fire and to see if it gets developed as a serious meta threat that more players are aware of.

Having finished college this past summer, I’m really looking forward to attending a lot more of the majors than I was previously able to, and I hope that I will be able to showcase the skill I’ve developed in my time playing this game. I really want to attend the Dark Crystal Cup and potentially Nationals, but there are some tentative personal things going on that might make that not possible. Regardless, I wish everyone luck at both of those events if I don’t make it and I hope to see some Mono Fire in the top 8. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far and I hope to write more about FFTCG in the future, it was honestly really fun writing down my thoughts about the game and the deck.

- Patrick Panattoni


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