Chris Neal – From LCQ to Worlds!

How in 3 days I went from planning to watch Nationals from home to planning for Worlds

Intro

Friday: “I’m going to sit at home and watch Nationals on stream this weekend.”
Sunday: “I’m going to London.”

Hello my name is Chris Neal. Much of the Southern California community already knows me, or at least has seen me at Meta Potion events. If you don’t know me, basically I currently live in Oxnard, CA and have been playing FFTCG since Opus II. I came from Magic which I have been playing for 20 years now and competitively for about 7 years. I have been a huge Final Fantasy fan since FF6, so FFTCG was a very natural fit for me. I think the game is great. I have played many TCGs and I can honestly say that FFTCG is one of the best and I hope it continues to grow.
It wasn’t until I learned about the Meta Potion Circuit last year (back then the So Cal Circuit) and traveled down to Tier 1 Games to play in an event that I instantly got hooked. This game felt like a very fresh take on what I had been playing for 20 years, but in many ways felt better. From that point on I was extremely interested in deck ideas, following events and new set spoilers, and battling in the rest of the Meta Potion events. I ended up making top cut in several of those events and then played in 2017 Nationals placing 23rd with a spicy Fire Ice list (my favorite element combo). I then placed 4th at Petit Cup with a similar list.

Road to Nationals / Preparation

Fast forward to this year’s Nationals qualifier circuit. I played in several events including the Crystal Cup held at Card Game Coliseum and did not make the top cut in any of them. The Southern California community is incredibly strong. There was definitely a huge skill increase from when I started playing in 2017 to now. I realized that I could no longer lean on skill without practicing or paying attention to the meta-game to top these tournaments. I needed to meta-game and prepare.
In the week’s leading up to the Dark Crystal Cup, which was my last chance to quality for Nationals, I played a lot of games on OCTGN as it is difficult for me to meet up with others due to the distance between where I live and much of the So Cal competitive community. I mostly used this to practice meta decks to see if I could get a good feel for them. What I kept finding out was that most of the established meta decks did not feel amazing to me. I was slightly above 50% win percentage with them but I didn’t have any great leanings towards any strategy. I brought Earth/Wind to the Meta Potion event the weekend before Nationals and went 2-3. After talking to a few people they made the great point that I would have to play over 17 rounds between LCQ and Nationals in order to quality for Worlds and it might be a bad idea to play a grindy deck.

Then I started thinking about the infamous Turbo Discard. I had played it in one LCQ and went 4-2 with it. In that event, it really felt like a crap-shoot to me. Either I had my god opening hand and won, or they played a Shadow Lord or some other sweeper or hard to answer forward like Dadaluma and blew me out of the game. What I noticed was that I was playing a list which included a lot more smaller and fragile forwards; cards that promoted an all in approach like Buccaboo, and not a lot of resilience in general.

I then saw some lists were running the Kurasame 6-028 package. I tested this and it felt great. Against other ice decks, it was often the key card in the match-up. In other match-ups, it often got value and sometimes even made your forwards as big as theirs. I also found that the backup line of Kazusa and Emina just felt better than Harley and Edward to me.

Another card I saw some players using was Laguna 1-059 instead of other cards in that slot. This Laguna was great. With a Squall in play he is effectively a 4th through 6th copy of Genesis but larger, and Genesis is already one of the best cards in the game. With Squall not in play he can still dull something for the winning attack or you can hit a game changing EX burst. This felt better than the 3 CP searcher Laguna package to me.

The last decisions I had to make with this deck were whether or not to include a 10th backup and Sephiroth 1-044. I found that 9 backups were fine (especially when I can search for 6 of them). Sephiroth was great in some spots, but every time I tried him I ended up top decking him in awful spots or when the opponent had no cards in hand already, so I ended up cutting him.

Here is what I ended up on:

Deck Name: Frozen Flame

Forward(30):

  • 3 Snow (1-043)
  • 3 Thaumaturge (5-040)
  • 3 Argath (1-033)
  • 3 Squall (6-033)
  • 2 Rinoa (2-047)
  • 2 Serah (1-195)
  • 1 Imaginary Champion (2-029)
  • 3 Genesis (3-033)
  • 3 Laguna (1-059)
  • 1 Vayne (2-026)
  • 3 Kurasame (6-028)
  • 3 Cid Aulstyne (3-036)

Summon(5):

  • 3 Mateus, the Corrupt (5-044)
  • 2 Shiva (3-032)

Backup(9):

  • 3 Jihl Nabaat (1-193)
  • 3 Emina (3-025)
  • 3 Kazusa (3-026)

Monster(6):

  • 3 Gesper (5-034)
  • 3 Flan (4-043)

Dark Crystal Cup

There was 6 swiss rounds and I don’t remember too much other than I went 5-1. I was playing extremely cool in this tournament with a “I don’t care if I lose” feeling and it worked for me. My only loss in the swiss was to Phillip Marciano who was playing a Mono Earth deck, which included something like 25+ EX bursts and a bunch of giant forwards. On the play he slams down 6 CP Vanille and Legendary Vincent and I have no chance of winning that game. After the game he told me the deck was specifically built to beat Turbo Ice and it showed.

Top 8

In the top 8 win-and-in best of 3 match I played against one of the players from Minnesota (I apologize I forgot your name!) who was also on turbo discard. I was fortunate enough to win the die roll, which to be honest is probably one of the most important parts of the mirror. Going first is huge in this matchup as it allows you to dump your hand on to the table first; thus rendering many of your opponent’s hands very bad. It went as expected as game 1 I dumped my hand on the table and won. Game 2 he dumped his hand on the table and won. Game 3 I dumped my hand on the table and won.

Just like that I was going to play in Nationals! In top 4 I did play 3 great games against Jason Wivart; who ended up winning the whole thing. In two of the games he had multiple Flandits in play including one game where had all 3. This is absolutely obscene if it happens and it made me respect that card a lot more. Congrats to him for winning that tournament.

Nationals Day 1

So I already had a trophy and some swag but now it was time to play at the big show. After I qualified a lot of people talked to me about potentially changing to another deck as players in Nationals would be a lot more prepared for turbo discard. Honestly, I wasn’t buying it. I thought my list was competitive against any deck and if I get the god hand of 3 discards on the first turn it is extremely hard to beat for any deck. Especially on day 1 when deck-lists are not known.

Round 1 vs Aaron Wiseman:

One of the more interesting games of the weekend. He is playing Earth/Wind good stuff with Phoenixes and Diabolos. This game plays out unlike most other games I have played in that he managed to keep a full hand the entire game by playing a couple cards early and then playing nothing for several turns and just discarding to hand size. This forced me into the awkward spot of having to make very weird attacks to play around every possible card he could have. I was fortunate enough to win.

Round 2 and 3:

I don’t remember much but I won. I believe these were quick games.

Round 4: My first loss of the tournament:

My opponent is on Mono Lightning and I get a great start of Thaumaturge, Gesper, and Kazusa. Unfortunately, I end up not drawing much pressure after that and am only dealing him 1 damage per turn for several turns. I managed to get him to 5 damage, however in that time he managed to get 4 backups into play which is incredibly scary. I still managed to put him in a spot where he had one turn to draw one of his 2 Illuas or 1 Lightning 4-115 to win and he was able to hit the Lightning.

Round 5 vs Hunter Nance:

Hunter is familiar to me as he has had some good results on the Magic SCG tour. I have to mulligan an opening hand with a bunch of 5 cost cards in it and no action and my second hand isn’t much better as it only includes 1 discard card and a bunch of 4 and 5 cost cards. I managed to deal a couple damage, but he has no trouble stabilizing with bigger Ice and Earth cards and outvaluing me to give me my second loss.

Round 6 vs Shereena Decano:

I have played Shereena a few times on the Meta Potion circuit, and I feel like she is one of those players who got good really fast. She destroyed me in this game by slamming down a Dadaluma and a Wol early and my hand has no answers. I take my 3rd loss here and for the first time all weekend I was starting to feel some pressure and had to win my next 2 games.

Round 7:

I played against midrange Ice player with Orphans. He managed to stabilize and make it to the midgame; however, with him at 5 damage I managed to play a Rinoa which he has no answer to and never draws one of his Orphans so I take the game.

Delay:

I know a lot of people were kind of upset about the extremely long delay between the rounds here. Normally, I would be in that boat, but in this day I was just happy to be there and the prize games played in between were fun. I also got to walk around and rest a bit before the next round.

Round 8 vs David Pai:

His name sounds familiar so I ask him and he tells me he won the Gen Con sealed Crystal Cup but sucks at constructed which was pretty funny. David was easily one of the nicest people I met all weekend, and we talked a lot about the community and whatnot. I was fortunate enough to be on the play and get my 3 discard start hand and put a lot of pressure on. He still manages to stabilize to the mid-game with Earth/Wind, but I was fortunate enough to push the last point of damage before he started playing stuff I couldn’t beat. I end the day in 24th place.

Nationals Day 2

Top 31 Match vs Andy Tan:

He is on Wind/Water list with Cid II. Game 1 on the play he goes Leila, Viking, Cid II and pass. I just look at the board like “yep I’m not beating that”. Fortunately, game 2 I have a hand almost as good as I am able to get 3 quick discards and early pressure. Game 3 was extremely close as he was able to get Cid II out and the entire game. I had to factor in how many Evokers he has left in his deck. I was able to get him to go through all 6 and barely push through Leilas and Vikings for 7 damage after his draws were suboptimal and he was forced to 1 for 1 with Diabolos.

Top 16 Match (for the London trip) vs Collin Rupert:

This is the big match, and the weird part is I don’t remember a lot of specifics, as I was so focused on winning. I can’t even think back as to what happened. Maybe I was in a zone of some sort I’m not sure. I see he is on Wind/Water chocobos and I have no idea how the match plays out. Fortunately, I didn’t have to know much as in 2 of the games I had a great hand with a lot of fast discard. His summons were very effective against me; however, I managed to push through. After the games he told me that he thinks Turbo Discard isn’t great for him and he doesn’t like the matchup. I offered my condolences.

I had made it to Worlds!

It was almost surreal as I had so many people congratulating me I can’t even remember them all. So many handshakes and hugs! It was a great feeling. I called my wife and told her we were going to London and she freaked out. It was funny because I told her I was probably going to lose Friday and go home and take a nap. Things did not go according to plan!

Top 8 match vs Jordan Denk:

Jordan is on the Wind/Water Cid II list that he went undefeated in swiss with. This guy is obviously good winning 2 Crystal Cups and I commend him on his dedication to the game. One of the signs of a good player is that even when I get my great hand, I never feel like they are out of the game, and that was the case here. I managed to win 1 game with quick discard and aggro. In game 2, I almost win with another great hand but he hits an EX Chaos which stabilizes then he beats me with Cloud of Darkness. Game 3, I start off strong however, he hits Valefor after I misplay an attack. Fortunately I am able to keep his hand size low and I am able to sneak the last point in.

Top 4 feature match vs Chris Lopez:

https://youtu.be/Mi3l1b8c-yE?t=5h9m45s

Game 1 was one of the tougher games of FF TCG I have played. Usually this matchup ends in 5 minutes or less, but this game lasted 30 minutes. He starts with the DGS package which I am not a huge fan of, but obviously it worked for him. He is destroying me but I am able to stabilize and somehow get THREE backups in play and Kurasame and slowly start dealing 1 damage per turn. If at any point he draws Shiva or Rinoa I lose; but his draws are terrible and I somehow win. Game 2, he plays Thaumaturge and I discard Cid Aulstyne then he plays Sephiroth! I kick myself as if I kept the Cid. I’m way ahead this game. Game 3, I get down Kurasame however, I play around Mateus the entire game (which he did have) and he is eventually able to overrun me with forwards to win. Congrats to him for winning the whole thing.

After Thoughts + Worlds

We are a few days out of Nationals now, and it still hasn’t fully hit me yet. I am still working on getting passports and whatnot as I have never traveled outside the US, so this trip will really be something. I plan on doing a good amount of sightseeing, but I can honestly say that my main focus will be becoming world champion. Once the entire Opus 7 spoiler hits, I will be doing a ton of theory crafting, thinking about the game, testing, and practicing both at Meta Potions and online with as much time as I can come up with. I also hope to work with some of the others who are going and others in So Cal to work on deck ideas. I am beyond excited and I will do my best to represent. If I scrub out at least I can say I went to London!

Shout Outs

  • My wife Nicki who supports me playing all these games and also travels with me sometimes. She also battles me sometimes and destroys me with her Mono Earth and Mono Water Monster decks so there is that.
  • Matt Okimoto and rest of Meta Potion team. I wouldn’t be playing at this level without these events and this community.
  • Dae Hee Lee who played a lot of practice games with me live and online and I learned a lot, and everyone on team Leviathan’s Legion!
  • RB and the teams at Square Enix for putting on good events and for making this game.
  • Everybody who congratulated me in person or online. I can’t name all of you but you are all awesome. The FFTCG community is really great.

- Chris Neal


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