Having a Plan

It was a chilly winter day, and a few friends had invited me to see a concert in New York City. Travelling into NYC is always rife with complications, so questions started flying through my mind. Do I need to pay for parking? Do I need to drive to a train station? Are we carpooling? To my surprise the answer to all of these questions was the same. “We’ll figure it out.” When we got to the train station, we were shocked to see it was completely empty. Turns out the train didn’t service that station on the weekend, but nobody had bothered to check. One overpriced taxi and two hours later, we arrived late to the concert and immediately started applying the blame. Some blamed the taxi driver for being slow, some blamed the train for its schedule, but to me the reason for our failure was obvious; we didn’t have a plan.

Building Blocks

Whether it’s in the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game or anything else in life, having a plan is critical to your success. A mantra that I learned years ago has stuck with me through all aspects of life, and friends who know me have certainly heard me repeat these words:

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

We could easily have avoided our situation if we had eliminated our assumptions. Any plan can be broken down into three steps; preparation, application and execution. Prepare to create a plan by gathering knowledge, and by using what you already know to do meaningful research. Do you have experience with a similar situation? What potential risk is involved? Do you have a specific goal in mind? Next, apply your knowledge in the context of the situation. What obstacles might you encounter? Are there multiple ways to accomplish the same goal? Which of those ways makes the most sense given the information you have? Finally, execute the course of action you think minimizes risk while maximizing success and loop back to stage one. Do you have any new information? Are there any new challenges? In a fluid situation like a competitive game, you will often have to adapt your plan on the fly as the context changes.

“That all sounds pretty good,” you might be thinking, “but how do I apply this to the FFTCG?” Having a plan is crucial to succeeding at anything, and that includes winning your next match. Building your plan starts the moment you begin building your deck. Maybe your plan is to play the most powerful cards, utilize a potent combo, or simply have fun casually playing your favorite characters. Perhaps it’s something more specific like playing hand denial, rushing early unblockable damage, or pulling off a game-changing Grand Cross. As with most strategies though, the devil really is in the details. How you adapt and change your plan as you acquire new information will decide whether you win or lose a match. I often hear from many newer players that once they understand the value of each card in their deck, they have a tough time deciding which cards are the “expendables,” or cards they are willing to discard for CP.

A Rock and a Hard Place

Water element provides us with one of the most obvious examples of a card that makes this decision difficult, legendary Tidus (1-163 L). Blitz Ace allows Tidus to attack once for each point of damage you have taken, making him one of the most potent game-ending forwards. While a big Blitz Ace play will often win you the match in the late-game, the value of the card is significantly lower early on when you do not have a large number of either forwards or points of damage. Being that you can only have three copies of any given card in your deck, most decks that run Tidus only ever have two opportunities to use Blitz Ace. Discarding a Tidus early or giving your opponent time to remove one means you will only have one opportunity to use Blitz Ace, making holding Tidus in your hand for that sweet, game-winning move feel like the smart play.

Remember that we are using new information and applying it to the current board state to make our plan. If we aren’t going to get a critical Blitz Ace off, it is much better to play a Tidus early as a mid-powered water forward or discard him to pay for a card that is stronger in the early/mid game. After all, if we don’t make it to the late-game it won’t matter that we saved our late-game strategy. Value is a difficult thing to assign to a card, and can change multiple times over the course of a game. In a Final Fantasy VI themed deck, Mog (VI) (4-140H) on turn one or two might feel like a great tempo play because you can start using his ability to draw extra cards early on. If we wait another two turns though, we can activate Mog’s protection clause by having other FFVI forwards out and prevent an easy removal from the likes of Black Mage (2-108C), Seymour (1-137R), or Vivi (3-149S).

In the first situation there is a chance that we draw more cards up front, but a high chance our opponent can answer Mog. In the latter, we miss two potential card draws but end up having more consistency overall as it is harder for our opponent to remove Mog from the field. Use the information you have on hand to adjust your plan instead of just playing cards that you know are strong. Before you play a card, basic information you can acquire in a moment can help you make those tough calls. How many cards are in your opponent’s hand, do they have the potential resources to answer your play? What cards do you have left in your deck? Did they leave a backup with an ability active, and why? Have you checked their discard to see what they’ve used so far? Your opponent has a plan of their own; assume every action they take is a deliberate attempt to advance their board state.

By consistently adapting to new information you can realistically predict not only your own next move, but your opponent's as well. By tracking what you have discarded or played, you have a rough idea of what cards are left in your and your opponent's decks and the relative probability of drawing into them. What win condition can you create using the pieces you have left in your deck? What is your opponent going to do to try and win the game? When building a deck, instead of putting all of your eggs into one, easily-smashable basket it is better to diversify your threats. Have a secondary or even tertiary strategy you can swap to on the fly to ensure nothing stands in your path to victory. By taking a little extra time to plan your next move, you can drastically improve your play. So make a plan, and plan to win.

by John Schreiner

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