2nd: Nathan Perez
Deck Name: Starve MKV - Wind/Ice
This deck is a heavy-control Ice/Wind list that utilizes discard, effects that punish '0' hand size, and dual power-buffs to make a critical swing play and starve out the opponent.
Argath - Usually the easiest discard in the deck. Generally you don't want to play him early unless you need to threaten counter-harass since his 3k body dies to a gentle breeze. I'd consider this a minor flex-pick as there can be an argument for running him as a 2-of.
Serah - Solid turn 2 play if opponent throws out a 2-drop forward or if you need to threaten counter-harass. The early discard really hurts the Aggro decks but otherwise she'll be an early pitch until late-game.
Rinoa - I actually hate that this card exists because it's just so good. 3-drop for 7k makes her a decent body against the Al-Cids and Onion Knights of the world and she gets pretty big when Squall/Laguna are on the field. This is the card you want to draw against aggressive decks because she's the only 3-drop in the deck that's on the curve and her auto-ability will either save you an entire turn's worth of damage or combo with Zalera to wipe your opponent's board.
Squall - One of the big swings in the deck. With Laguna on the field, this guy becomes a 9k that discards 2 cards from your opponent's hand. The deck doesn't have many reliable 9k bodies so he's pretty important to combo with Laguna. He's a really good target for Devout when comboed with Laguna. On a bad no-backup hand the play turn 1, Laguna + Squall is a strong play.
Laguna - Nothing too fancy about him, he becomes a 9k when Squall is on the field and he allows Squall's auto-ability to discard 2 instead of 1. He's also one of the very few "good" ex-burst in the deck. Notably, with Maria/Duke Larg he becomes a 9k.
Cid Aulstyne - This guy is the biggest swing card of the whole deck. If you're in a position where you have a better economy than your opponent and you get to use this guy's auto-ability, they're going to be hurting. He's the only base 9k in the deck so you can use him as a body in a pinch, but usually you'll be activating (multiple) Bard/Argath/Serah/Squall/Zidane to get to use this guy's full potential. One of the hardest choices when playing this deck is the decision whether to pitch him for CP if you draw him too early. You'll need a really good read on your opponent's deck/hand/intentions to determine whether it will be easy to get their hand size to 0 before taking too much damage.
Sephiroth (Dark) - To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if this card fits in the deck. My initial idea was to make a deck that completely starved the opponent of his hand and backups to make his cards difficult to play and my first iteration (Starve MKI) ran 8 total Sephiroths. In any case, this guy can be a beast. Killing a Lulu/Maria/Devout/ is a huge swing, just be careful not to play him into an Al-Cid/Famfrit. He's also pretty good against faster decks that have trouble with First Strike and when Maria is out he's incredibly hard to deal with in combat. I didn't like him at more than 1-of since he can easily get stuck in your hand.
Sephiroth (Ice) - The EX-burst is nice, but a lot of the times I'll play him as a reliable 4 for 8k body. Again, the deck lacks a reliable body on the curve so Sephiroth can help curb aggression in a pinch. With the full Maria/Duke Larg setup, the 10k body is real nice.
Dorgann - I think this guy is almost an auto-include in every wind deck. He circumvents auto-abilities that trigger off of being sent to the break zone, he wastes your opponent's combat tricks, and he reliably gets rid of any problem forward. He's just so versatile. Real good target for Devout when you're ahead and a must-have against Earth matchups who rely on combos such as Vincent+Yuffie or Ursula+Yang.
Zidane - One of the two main reasons I run wind with the discard theme. Being able to discard your opponent's best card is insane, and that's not even mentioning the fact that you now know your opponent's entire hand. The deck gets him to a 7k pretty often so he can be a relevant body as well. Really good target for Devout and Time Mage in a pinch. He also combos very well with Chaos, since you'll be able to know which forwards (if any) the opponent will be able to play.
Bard - Pretty much every opponent at US Nationals asked if they could read this card once I played him. Cheap and instant discard; being able to do this on your opponent's turn leads to some pretty surprising plays, especially if they're starved for resources. It's not an uncommon play to have your opponent discard a card during the Attack Preparation step and deny them from playing a combat trick or a Forward in Main Phase 2.
Edward - This guy is the reason the deck is called "Starve." If you have him on the field when you make your critical swing play of the game (read: Cid Aulstyne), your opponent is going to probably not have fun for the rest of the game. If you're ahead on backup count, you want to use this as often as possible to pressure your opponent's hand size and force him into tough decisions. He's not very useful when you're behind, but he can help trigger the 0-card opponent hand that allows for your big swing. One thing to note is that triggering him only costs you one more resource that it costs your opponent, so you can use that information to correctly analyze the risk/reward.
Time Mage - Ice lacks good choices for good 2-cost backups to play early, but Time Mage fits pretty well with the deck for big plays on Squall, Zidane, Dark Sephiroth, and Cid Aulstyne. He's not going to be used every game, but when he is used it's usually for a pretty good advantage.
Archer - Good early-game wind backup and bolsters the theme of the deck by being able to rid your opponent of resources. Good targets for this are any of the 3-cost buffing backups or any backups of colors your opponent is hurting for.
Maria/Duke Larg - The ice forwards in the deck are under the power curve and you're playing the long game. Getting these out early in the aggro matchup is really good since Serah and Laguna/Squall by themselves are weak.
Devout - I put this in because it works really well with Laguna/Squall to get their strong effects. Also lets you push the last damage when you're ahead with Rinoa. Can be okay with Zidane/Argath/Serah if you really need to get that last card from their hand for Chaos/Aulstyne. It's an amazing card but I'd say it's a flex pick at this point, maybe I need more testing without it to see that it's mandatory.
Jihl Nabaat - She ups the EX Burst and 2-drop backup count in the deck and is pretty good to use against aggression. She's always been an unsure pick for me; this is the card I take out/put in the most out of all of the iterations of the deck. For now I'd consider her a flex pick. She combos pretty well with Rinoa/Zalera.
Zalera, the Death Seraph - I didn't believe in this card for the longest time but I was so wrong. This card destroys Water, does pretty okay vs. Lightning, and is pretty much necessary vs. Golbez. The deck is already weak to 4-drops due to weaker early/midrange forwards and this card doesn't help with that, but against everything else this can swing games hard.
Chaos, Walker of the Wheel - Removal/Discard all-in-one. I've had this card swing games by making discard plays to empty the opponent's hand and finishing their best forward with Chaos. This is also good to use after peeking at their hand with Zidane. The deck is weak to Earth due to the weaker forwards but this card can pull nifty combat tricks that exploit Earth's combo-dependent cards like Vincent and Yang.
Sylph - This card's in here to help remove pesky Kujas and Snows. Surprise activation is basically removal, and it also helps in the long games where both boards are huge and it's really difficult to attack. The +1k also helps the weaker forwards trade against stronger bullies.
Cards that almost made the cut:
Genesis - I really wanted to make this work, but the deck is just too slow. Having another forward under the curve that doesn't gain an advantage until he can attack made the deck clunkier and less consistent. The dull-freeze is good for saving damage, but almost never for pushing damage or pressure.
Shiva - The ideal endgame puts you in a position where you'll overpower the opponent with card advantage, so there's no need to dull forwards to sneak. Dulling forwards to stall is just negative card advantage.
Sephiroth (4 cost dark) - This card was in the deck for the longest time and was originally the inspiration for the deck. Had to be cut because the discard forwards just didn't have enough power to survive long enough for this card to really do economic damage.
Sephiroth (5 cost ice) - He fits the discard theme but makes usage of the other Sephiroths really clunky.
Kazusa - I tested him a lot to make the discard in the deck much more aggressive, but the action ability ended up being too expensive. Unless you had an empty hand, Kazusa was a more expensive Bard (bard costs 2CP to activaate and Kazusa effectively costs 3) so I cut him early.
Mateus, the Corrupt - To be honest I still think this summon should be in, but for the current iteration of the list there just wasn't enough room and I would rather have the consistency of the current list than the magical EX burst factor of Mateus. I'd consider this a flex pick for the deck.
Squall (Legend) - I think if I ran this card I would have had a much better chance against Mambo de Chocobo. This card absolutely destroys aggressive decks and partnered with Sylph for a surprise block can completely swing games. Eventually took him out and increased the Rare Squall count to make the discard more consistent. I'd consider this a flex pick.
Vayne - Vayne is just so strong, but the only card I really felt I needed him against was Emperor Xande. Everything else can be dealt with by late game big dudes or removal. I took him out and basically trusted Dorgann to handle any stray Xandes I would ever face against.
Kuja/Capricious Reaper - These cards definitely fit the theme of the deck, but deck slots are primo and I felt that having Capricious Reaper meant that Squall/Laguna had to be cut. I tried both iterations and felt Squall/Laguna were more consistent.
Aerith (Opus 3 Legend) - I had her in the deck for the longest time simply because she just felt so strong. She was also a reliable early wind backup. Eventually cut her because she felt out-of-place with the deck and against earth you can just not attack.
Leon - SoCal considers this my pet card, but I have no attachment to him what-so-ever. He fits with the deck but with Aulstyne/Chaos, you already have enough to punish empty hands. Any more would mean you'll be stuck with suboptimal cards when you're behind and trying to get to that point.
How to play/Game flow:
Most of the time you're going to be playing the deck reactionary and slowly. There are enough 2-cost backups in the deck to allow you to do that consistently, though sometimes you'll draw a hand that basically forces you to Squall/Laguna turn one. You're going to want to play the long economy game, using Edward to gain recurring card advantage against the slower decks and using Aulstyne/Chaos to swing against more aggressive decks. End game goal is to get the opponent's hand to 0 with an Edward on your side of the field. This will effectively force them to either live with 1 card a turn or to play their hand (which makes them vulnerable to Chaos/Aulstyne).
I usually opt to go 2nd if I have a choice to deny the opponent the extra card.
Against Lightning and Water you generally don't want to play the first forward unless it's a cheap discard that you can pay for without pitching a card. Serah and Argath don't mind getting picked off by Al-Cid/Famfrit and they're good at pressuring the opponent's hand while also threatening harassment. Zalera also hits a ton of key forwards here. Turn 2 Garnett is a huge pain that will probably deal you a bit of damage before you can deal with her, but sometimes you can get away with counter-poking with Argath or Serah to pressure them into play more forwards rather than backups (making the 0-hand swing play much easier).
Earth can be tough. 4-cost forwards like Vincent, Guy, and Yang are common and don't lose to Zalera. 2 Ice sephiroths in the deck as the only forward that fight them evenly is also makes it difficult. You really want to play the Maria and Duke Larg early against aggressive earth decks to be able to keep up. Use Chaos, even when their hand isn't empty, to break up combo forwards like Ursula/Yang and Vincent/Yuffie during combat. I normally don't attack here until I'm far ahead as almost every forward in the deck is vulnerable to Masked Woman.
Against Fire, Red Mage and Emperor Xande are the big threats. Dorgan's really good here to stop Xande and Belias. A lot of fire's stuff gets hit by Zalera too.
Heavy wind decks can be tricky. The removal in the deck isn't reliable until you're winning so cards like Y'shtola (cheap) and Balthier (costs 4, avoids Zalera) can be pretty difficult to deal with. You'll probably take a bit of damage here before stabilizing even if both players play the econ game.
Ice's big threats are Snow/Kuja. Fortunately Snow can die to Argath but otherwise Sylph is gonna be the big gamechanger here. Ice doesn't have any reliable direct removal so playing forwards early is okay. Going wide can be tricky since that's vulnerable to Zalera, but having instant removal in the form of Dorgann/Chaos makes cards like Rinoa much easier to deal with.
The deck is super fun to play (maybe not for the opponent once you have them starving). I really like the flow of being behind -> surviving long enough to hit a swing play -> starving the opponent. The wins with the deck usually feel really, really good.
-Nathan Perez, 2nd place US Nationals