Playing Defensively: Yehosera’s Defensive Gamer Guide

Playing Defensively

The first thing to do is to come up with a working definition of defensive play. I’m far more adept at defining aggressive play, so to me defensive play is the opposite of that. Aggressive play isn’t as simple as attacking and taking the most aggressive path each turn. Aggressive play is about working out how to deal the 7th damage before the player runs out of options. By running out of options I mean having nothing left in the deck to draw/in hand to get through and deal the 7th point of damage.

I’ll start with Mono Ice, as that is the most aggressive deck that has "Meta Game" relevance currently looking back at before the Gesper ban. In the ideal world, the Mono Ice player opens with 2 forwards that discard cards from the opponent and 1 Gesper. This is the most aggressive opening as it applies the most pressure, however, has the shortest lifespan. By opening like this, the number of options every turn after the first is greatly limited as they have no resources to play their cards. Using the Mono Ice list from the UK Grand Open that finished in the top 8, after opening this way they have 22 cards that are playable on the next turn and 44 cards left in their deck, this gives them a just over 75% chance of drawing playable on the following turn. This normally would not be a very good strategy, as they have destroyed their own options and have essentially gone all in on winning the game with those 2 forwards and the assistance of the next forward drawn. Giving them only 4, maybe 5, forwards to deal 7 points of damage with. Where this becomes a winning strategy is that it removes the opposing player’s options as well. By forcibly discarding 3 cards from the opponent’s hand they start the game with 4 cards, in the face of double forward pressure. The pressure of the Gesper/other discard top decks means that the opponent cannot play a 4CP forward finishing with 1 card and play another on the following and try to manage the Ice players 2-4 forwards with their 2 forwards.

Taking the Mono Earth deck as an example from the same tournament, by committing to a 4CP forward and relying on top decking a 2CP card on the following turn the chances are 9 with 43 cards left in deck, making for an about 45% chance of hitting a playable card. By rolling those dice the game is naturally in favor of the Mono Ice deck as they’re 75% to draw playable and the Mono Earth is only about 45% of drawing playable. This inadvertently means that by playing a forward into their forwards the Mono Earth player has actually assumed an aggressive role, no matter what actions are taken with that 4CP forward (with the exception of cards like Vanille that can actually function as a defensive tool in those positions), that forward has to bear the burden of dealing a lot of the 7 points of damage, with potentially the assistance of one more forward. This means that the Mono Earth player in this position cannot simply sit back and block as in a 2 v 1 situation on board, by blocking they lose 100% of their forwards and the Mono Ice player loses 50% of their forwards. It’s worth noting that as a general rule (this is by no means an iron clad rule, it is actually a relatively loose rule in this game) the player that has more forwards on the field benefits from 1 for 1 trades the most.

As the option of playing a forward in the face of that opening puts the Mono Earth player into a situation whereby aggressive lines are the only lines of play that can net them a win, and they have already met the lose condition for aggressive lines of play, that line of play is terrible. To formulate a defensive line of play simply act to counter the aggressive line of play. As the aggressor wishes to push 7 points before running out of options, the defensive player should seek to give themselves as many options as possible. The best way to do this is to play backups in the face of forwards and hope a way out presents itself soon. Another way is to not block with forwards as losing forwards reduces options, by blocking and trading vs a party attack, all that is accomplished is removing the option for the aggressor to party attack with the same forwards on the following turn, by blocking the option to block later and the option to attack is taken away from the forward. The damage pushed each turn by 2 forwards that have to party attack is the same as 1 forward that does not have to party attack. In the earlier scenario, if 2 backups were played by the Mono Earth player on the first turn, or even, 1 turn 1 and a 2nd on turn 2, the number of live cards that can be drawn each turn changes from only 9 to almost the whole deck. Once a turn comes whereby the Earth player has options and the Ice player does not have options the Ice player has lost. Another way to counteract aggressive lines to be aggressive back and try to force them into taking defensive actions. As the player cannot race vs 2 forwards with 1, it is not easy to achieve this from that board state, but once the board state is a 3 v 2 in favor of the ice player, by attacking with 1 forward, the Ice player still have to party attack to get over the 1 superior forward, thus meaning only 1 damage is pushed on each side. This is risky due to cards like Mateus the Corrupt and Genesis, so attacking with 2 and taking 3 damage is also an option. Finally, as the aggressive player, by going all in has put themselves on a clock to win, outliving that clock is a way to win. Taking actions to making attacking awkward/prioritizing removal over proactive plays can make the game take too long and allow the player with more options per turn to naturally win.

To summarize, the key points are to keep giving yourself as many options as possible, extend the game for as long as possible, and whenever possible reduce their options.

Taking the same ideas and putting them to work vs Mono Lightning is a lot harder. One of the things I like about playing vs Mono Ice is that the deck is so simple to beat, the threats are easy to manage, but Mono Lightning has a wide variety of threats so how to managing their aggressive draws is a lot less clear cut. The first thing that should be done is to find out if the Mono Lightning player needs to assume the role of the aggressor or the defender. Lightning naturally benefits from being the aggressor, as their most potent removal effects target active forwards and generally speaking, removal effects that trade 1 for 1 need to be serving a higher purpose or aren’t worth playing. The easiest higher purpose to serve with 1 for 1 removal is to push damage which, again, is more of a reason for that deck to want to adopt the role of aggressor. There are, however, cases whereby the Mono Lightning deck has to assume the role of defender so always check first what seems to be the case. The standard horror show vs Mono Lightning starts with an Illua, the next act involves an Al-Cid, the hardest part is predicting the finale as it could be an Estinien, maybe a Ramuh, maybe even an Amon. So, how to play defensive in the face of an early Illua is the best place to intercept their aggressive options. Unlike other early forwards she’s not as easy to manage due to her excellent defensive ability. Similarly, unlike some of the other early forwards within built protection (Y’shtola), Illua has an S ability that threatens to deal multiple points of damage in one turn. So once more, the aggressor’s role is to push damage before they run out of options, to counteract this it seems obvious to play a forward to road block the Illua and prevent the damage pushing. Where this falls short is that the Mono Lightning player still has options in hand. A road block only really works if the opposing player has no options to clear it away with. Some % of the time the player can get lucky and the Mono Lightning player simply have no way of removing the forward and have to adopt slower lines of play. In these cases not only is the non-Lightning player fortunate but also ahead as any time a deck has to switch from a fast to a slow gear, some advantage is lost. In the face of an early Illua, the best thing to do is the same as vs Mono Ice, do nothing and build up some backups. Once the non-lightning player is ready to manage the Al-Cid and friend that come afterwards, then fight for the board, while trying to keep as many options available on the next turn as possible. Once a forward sticks, the same mentality should be adopted as vs Ice, by blocking the non-Lightning player’s forward loses the option to attack, and is left vulnerable to cards such as Cyclops and burn forwards in Main Phase 2 thus giving the Lightning player a greater number of options.

All of this theory behind how to play defensive is great and all, however, not all decks are geared up for defensive play. A few things are needed for defensive options to be potent within a deck.

Some EXBursts

Having no potential for an EX Burst in a deck that has the aim of taking damage simply isn’t very smart. Some break numbers for EX Bursts are 7, 13, 18, 23, 28. I’ve done no real math behind these numbers, they’re just numbers that have been working well for me, by that I mean between 8 and 12 I don’t really notice much of a difference but once the 13th is put in it makes a difference. It’s no coincidence that they ramp up in 5s as the deck is 50 cards, but like I said, I’ve done no math, they’re just numbers that have done well for me.

Sticky Forwards

If the option of blocking is removed easily, then defensive options become limited. Hence sticky forwards that don’t die very easily are needed. Any card with the hidden text 'big' or some in built protection will do. Cards with 'big' are cards with 9,000 power or more.

Cards that can attack

Cards with powerful on hit effects such as Genesis or Laan to pressure their life totals while netting advantage are good. Cards that can attack without any downsides, such as Y’shtola or Noctis, this is because their abilities can still be used to help the player survive while those forwards are dull. Finally, cards with brave as they can still defend while attacking.

Example Deck:

--Generated By FF Decks ( )--

Deck Name: Defensive Deck Example

Created by: yehosera

Forwards (19):

1x Chelinka (7-054)

3x Rikku (6-062)

2x Viking (4-133)

1x Y'shtola (5-068)

1x Leila (6-126)

3x Paine (6-053)

2x Yuri (7-128)

2x Zidane (6-044)

1x Cloud of Darkness (5-126)

3x Yuna (6-124)

Summons (15):

3x PuPu (4-128)

3x Asura (5-049)

3x Chaos, Walker of the Wheel (3-071)

3x Cuchulainn, the Impure (2-133)

3x Diabolos (5-062)

Backups (16):

2x Aleria (7-043)

2x Brahne (4-134)

1x Brother (1-197)

3x Echo (5-053)

2x Maria (1-083)

3x Merlwyb (2-137)

3x Shinra (6-048)

With 25 EX Bursts this deck can take a beating without worrying too much about the repercussions of taking a lot of damage early on. The forwards are all sticky, so it’s possible to formulate a long term game plan without having sudden removal ruining that line of play. In a board stall Yuri can pull the player ahead, so while nothing is happening the player can still be winning, thus forcing the opponent to always have to play as the aggressor. Finally Yuna and Zidane provide strong attackers as Yuna has pseudo brave and Zidane has a potent on attack effect.

While this deck looks like a bit of a mess at first glance, after playing a very similar deck a lot just before Euros hit, I can confirm that this style of play with the Gullwings will crush all aggressive players with ease while having a chance vs slower decks due to the nature of the Gullwings.

- Joshua Freeman-Birch

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