EU Finals Top 8 Report – Alex Hancox
Ice/Lightning Manakin posted on behalf of Alex Hancox
European Finals Runner-Up Report
Greetings followers of the Void, I am UK National Champion and European Finalist Alex Hancox (better known to most as MrCool) and welcome to my 2nd place report of the European Championship! Before I go into the report, I’ll give you a brief rundown on what exactly this European Championship is.
The event was hosted at the Square Enix Head Office in London. The 26 competitors who had placed highly enough in their country’s qualifiers were provided travel and accommodation in a nearby hotel. We were all required to bring a single 50 card deck to compete in 5 rounds of swiss with a Top 8 cut. The Top 6 players would qualify for the World Finals and win a trip to Japan, with those placing higher earning more prizes including games consoles and trophies! Although I narrowed down my deck choice to Wind Water (Bartz) and Lightning Ice (Exdeath), I was still slightly undecided the night before. Eventually, after thorough testing with fellow UK competitor Simon Drake (for which I am very grateful) I was almost certain I’d play Exdeath, as it had been performing well against his Ice Earth, a deck I expected to see a lot of in the tournament.
In short, I wasn’t the only player undecided, which led both Joshua Freeman-Birch and Robert Phillips to take the exact same Exdeath deck somewhat last minute (literally an hour before we were meant to arrive). Robert ended up placing 10th and Joshua placed 6th.
Now, in case there are any of you wondering ‘How did my man fit Grand Cross into a dual-color deck?’ allow me to elucidate: There is only 1 Exdeath, and he’s neither of those pathetic imitations from Opus 1 and 3.
2nd Place Alex Hancox – Ice/Lightning
Also known as MrCool’s Goon Squad, this variant of Lightning/Ice differs from the more common versions that have been a constant force in the meta since Opus 2 by pairing the proactive Exdeath Manikin package with the more reactive Al-Cid Goon package. The pairing creates a deck that can efficiently churn out high-value forwards out of the gate or play a slower, more attrition-based game by looking for efficient trading of resources with the opponent. I regret none of the cards I chose to play, as I used every single one to good effect during the tournament. A 3rd Al-Cid would have been nice, but we can’t have everything! Similarly, a 3rd Shiva or Zalera would have been nice at times, but not often enough to warrant messing with the other ratios. Now, to the tournament!
Round 1 vs Andrea Piserchia ITA, 2nd place Naples Regional with Wind/Water
I am on stream immediately, the match starts about 3 minutes into the recording.
So I did my homework prior to the event and saved a screenshot of the decklists the players had used to qualify. Funnily enough, every opponent I played used the same element combination they had qualified with, and Andrea was no exception. Having qualified during Opus 3, his deck was almost identical, giving me key info on his summons (Famfrit, Chaos, and Sylph).
I mulligan into Exdeath/Reaper and punish his weak opening of Rikku H, and no EX bursts lead to a quick and decisive win.
The second game goes on for ages, and I almost run out of deck. He sees all 3 Famfrits in the opening turns and hits one off damage, but his inability to capitalise on my weakened board state and overpaying to leave Aerith active every turn means I only need to play into Aerith when it’s at its weakest. I forgot that I freeze his Ghis with Genesis towards the end, but Shiva makes it irrelevant.
Round 2 vs Raphael Le Leve FRA, French National Champion with Ice/Earth (Laguna/Squall)
Though pleased to be out of the gate with a win, I find myself against a fellow national champion in the second round. I play against 3 different Ice/Earth decks in this tournament, and Rapha’s is definitely the most midrange of the three. A simple yet effective strategy of building a strong line of forwards and backups and hoping to land a Laguna/Squall combo to swing the game with Devout is what I’m up against, with a Vanille and 3 Hecatoncheir added in for good measure.
Game 1 is fairly straightforward. My curve game is a little stronger and I build a quick damage gap to put him on the defensive, and get in a fair few hits with Genesis to put him in a soft-lock where he is forced to play whatever he draws to stay alive.
Game 2 my curve isn’t quite as strong as his this time, and not enough early game pressure makes me unable to squeeze out the last point of damage I need after he gets Squall/Laguna off and I am left without a good answer.
Game 3 my hand is somewhat dire, forcing me to play a turn 1 Exdeath with Fleeting and hope for no Shantotto. He plays Jihl instead and I draw some backups, giving me some CP for when I need to rebuild should he draw Shantotto. He does on turn 3 or 4 but I’ve done a good chunk of damage already and my deck is better at topdecking. A Shiva seals the deal.
Round 3 vs Tobi Henriet FRA, French Nationals Finalist with Ice/Earth
The aggro deck of the three Ice/Earths I play. Spoiler: Tobi is the eventual winner… though I get him this round at least!
I win the die roll and begin to setup backups, but he plays Shelke turn 2 with Ursula leading me to pause. I decide the best way to contest is taking his initial attacks and then respond with Onion Knight/Cid Raines to gain the board and starve him of cards. This initial momentum is enough to see me through to 7 damage as Shelke is too weak without Shalua to contest my initial board.
Second game he goes Shelke turn 2 again and this time I respond with Al-Cid, but he boldly continues his offensive. I draw worse than him in the later turns and he wins a close damage race 7-6 after rightly opting not to block with Rinoa.
Game 3 is kinda nuts. Shelke vs Al-Cid happens again and we trade damage, then we each play Genesis to switch the damage initiative, with me being slightly ahead. With one goon previously dulled by Genesis and 2 up including Amon I know I can’t die (I also have a Summoner to stop Shiva). He opts to continue the race and puts me to 6, party attacking with Genesis and Shelke and making me drop a card. Then in MP2 he plays Rinoa, discarding Shantotto and leaving himself with an Ice and Earth backup. With Amon ready to dull and me only needing to do 3 damage with my 3 forwards, I pause and wonder what his last card is (Shantotto would have kept him alive, albeit without any cards). I decide to respect his talent and assume the card is Jihl, which he will use if I use Amon on Rinoa, stopping my lethal and giving him great odds at killing me next turn. I allow him to pass, Shiva down Rinoa, and then swing for game. He reveals Jihl, we tell each other how incredibly good we are, and then move on.
Round 4 vs Federico Romoli Venturi ITA, 1st place Bologna Regional with Ice/Earth
I am on stream again. Match starts approx. 4 hrs 24 mins.
The third and final Ice/Earth deck, which is certainly the control deck of the three, with a focus on sticky minions like Delita, Kuja, and Reaper. I worry that I might not be favored as half my forwards target, but realize quickly that my deck is a lot faster, and using Genesis to dull & freeze a Reaper and giving it haste is worth the extra card I lose. Also, any minion he plays which isn’t sticky grows a massive bullseye on its head for my Al-Cid bullet, like Emperor L. The match is pretty brief, 7-0, 7-2, and I get a neat lethal in one by using Al-Cid/Rygdea on Delita, dulling Reaper with Rydea, and then having just enough leftover CP to play Cid Raines and give him haste for the 7th damage.
Round 5 vs Candido Sanchez SPA, Spanish Nationals Finalist with Lightning/Ice (0 backups)
So I’m now guaranteed Top 8, but I really want to go 5-0 and break the X-0 curse that has already claimed a number of competitors in high level events across the world. This match is noteworthy as it’s the only time I have ever opted to go 2nd since Opus 1. Candido is playing all forwards, and the best part about that is I can do the same by just discarding my backups, and some of his weaker cards like Snow and Bard play excellently into Rygdea and Cid Raines.
Game 1 he plays Strongest Sword Gilgamesh but doesn’t find another copy to break my stuff before I am able to break it, and my forwards are just slightly better and slightly more efficient, allowing me to win the race 7-5.
Game 2 I open super naff, and am forced to play Reaper and then follow it with Exdeath on his own, which swiftly gets hit by Al-Cid Margrace and a goon. I lose shortly after.
Game 3 is almost the same, but this time Al-Cid hits my Reaper, dropping his hand to 0. I stick an Amon, allowing me both offensive and defensive options, and time to draw good cards like Genesis. I am forced to allow him one opportunity to draw lethal through Divider (Gil + Lightning card), but he misses, then I miss on my lethal but put him to 6 and protect myself from any lethal he might draw, then clock him for the 7th next turn.
Quarter-Final vs Marco Gramatica ITA, 1st Place Rome & Naples with Water/Wind
(Approx 49 mins into stream, though only game 2 and 3)
Marco claimed 1st at two of the Italian regionals with Water/Wind across Opus 2 and 3, so I expect a good match. Naturally I’m a little nervous at being one match away from Worlds but my record thus far bolsters my confidence. That confidence is ripped to shreds in the first game.
So Game 1 my hand is good enough, and I play an early Amon to apply pressure, though he responds with Zidane under Maria and opts to have me discard. Not wanting to lose my damage initiative, I Gramis to 4 backups and play Al-Cid to clear his Zidane and swing the board, dropping my hand but having 4 backups which will let me play whatever I topdeck. Unfortunately, my Amon rams right into Cuchulainn, the Impure, draining my Rygdea into a dry corpse and giving him a card. I still think I have great odds to win at this point, as I Odin his Wakka, hit with Amon, and then with Al-Cid. Unfortunately, Cuchulainn decides to come back for an encore on the 3rd damage, tragically timing itself at the point where it will fully sap Al-Cid, too. The four card swing gives him enough to stabilise, and I lose a super tilting game 6-7.
So we move to stream, much to my chagrin, and game 2 is looking down for a while, but after a minute passes without Marco making a play, the judge gives him a slow play warning and his apparent nerves cause him to misplay, trading his Balthier for my Exdeath and leaving himself without a board when he could have played Paine (albeit without drawing a card), Steiner, and Zidane, putting me severely on the back foot. The opening he gives me is all I need to tie up the match, and we move to game 3.
Game 3 is also super tilting, as having gone second and being left overdrawn due to playing a 2 CP backup into a 3 CP tutor backup, I play down Fleeting Flash and swing right into grumpy old Steiner, which gives him Eiko into Zidane into me discarding a card. I think I’ve lost as I’m not yet on 4 backups, but I decide to overextend, dropping a bunch of really good cards to play Amon and give him haste, widening the damage gap from 1-2 to 1-5. He misses on EX bursts and is on the defensive, albeit with a Nono and Mog IX up so he can still attack. I draw Devout and decide after much deliberation to play it and pass rather than attack, as he wants to trade as it costs him fewer resources, giving me the all-important 4th backup plus a future Amon/Genesis/Al-Cid. He attacks with Zidane, and I let it through as he has another in hand from Steiner. I then block Steiner with Amon and dull Bartz, leaving Wakka alone and forcing him to pass to leave up Nono and Mog in case I go for lethal (which is always available through Devout). I decide to party with Al-Cid/Rygdea and draw out Nono. Though close to lethal I know I can never get it that turn, so I simply play Reaper to maintain the board. Wakka swings, Zidane comes down again, and I draw the most beautiful copy of Zalera you’ve ever seen, Devout back Amon and give it haste to dull the board, and attack to force Nono, to which I stack Zalera on top. If you listen closely in the moment that I cast Zalera, you can hear the deafening silence of Marco’s soul shattering before it is consumed by the Void, followed by the distant laughter of Exdeath. I put him to 6 after pushing through his Wakka, and draw a Fleeting Flash on the following turn to push through his final stand of Balthier and Dorgann.
So I make it to top 4 and secure my Worlds spot, so now it’s time to go for broke. The finalists are guaranteed a Nintendo Switch or PS4 pro, and man, I didn’t have a PS4 yet.
But anyway, I play against Mr. Venturi’s sticky Ice/Earth control again in the Semi-Final and the match goes similarly to the swiss. I am however impressed to find out during this match that Federico has only been playing the game for about a month, and has already secured a worlds invite. Hopefully similar success stories crop up in the future!
Finals – EXDEATH THE MIGHTY vs Tobi Henriet, European Champion 2017
(Approx 2 hrs 57 minutes into stream)
It’s a great match, just like our swiss round, and honestly Tobi was the only person I played who gave me real trouble outside of me just drawing sub optimally.
Game 1 I draw some solid manure and have to make a push with double Fleeting, which then gets frozen by Jihl, and though I expect it to come I continue to draw poorly and go for broke against Tobi’s Shantotto as I already knocked one into damage. The mischievous midget made an appearance of course, and I conceded shortly after.
Game 2 I get to blow him out, drawing an excellent backup curve including 3 copies of Devout and win decisively.
Game 3 I open slow with Devout and he does the ol’ Shelke/Ursula play. Not prepared to be behind on board or damage, I combo Al-Cid with Devout and Black Mage Opus 2 to clear, and then Tobi plays a fearsome Sephiroth prompting me to ditch my last two cards. Unfortunately I fluff on outs even though at least half my deck is an out over the next two turns and his backup advantage puts him ahead on board. I take 3 damage in order to drop a Zalera + Odin to clear 4 forwards and regain initiative, but Tobi follows up with Yang/Ursula to stonewall me again. Though I break Yang with a block and Black Mage, the Jihl that I played around in the swiss comes back to haunt me as an EX burst, and with me being forced to break Rinoa with Seymour to get a second backup down, my two forwards are disabled for a turn and the initiative exchange puts him ahead. I draw Odin to stay alive, but when he only plays a Serah with 5 cards in hand I know there’s a Shiva coming, and though I draw Fleeting next turn to stave off lethal, a 3rd and final Jihl Sadistically Surges me into second place.
Nevertheless, 2nd is certainly not too shabby, and Tobi was certainly a worthy winner, and the pair of us certainly put on a thrilling show for those watching the stream. Mr. Venturi secures the 3rd place trophy and standard PS4 shortly before the closing ceremony, and we are greeted by half a dozen boxes of pizza and, for those that drink, a few fridges full of beer! I mention the pizza and booze if only to further stress how good of an event this was. The staff were excellent, everyone was chill and relaxed, taking it seriously enough but not too seriously, and I highly doubt there was anyone who didn’t have a good time. Certainly it marks a successful union of our neighbouring countries, and shows a great deal of promise for the future. Thanks to Fabian, Alec, and all the foreign representatives for putting the event on, along with of course Mr. Kageyama and those who joined him from Japan. Thank you to the other players, who made the event memorable and fun, and putting up with my inane babbling during the games amongst many other things. Thanks to Exdeath, for being a truly incredible wizard. Thanks to me, for being wonderful and brightening everyone’s day with my presence. And last of all, thank you, dearest reader, for making it this far through my muddled mutterings and wearisome wit. Remember: play hard, have fun, and stay cool.