You’d think I’d come up with a catchier title when writing about my own decks.
You would be wrong.
So, now the competitive season is effectively over for me (as in there’s nothing big coming up that I’m attending soon), I figured it’s time to share my lists so you guys can give them a go. First up is going to be my Mono Lightning deck, which is always undergoing tweaks, but for the most part is stable right now, and has a lot of good matchups.
Let’s go over the deck & some of the reasoning behind the choices I’ve made.
The deck’s a reasonably standard mono-lightning deck, which is about getting an early game advantage and then just pressuring and pressuring until you have the win. A friend I test with regularly described it as a deck that capitalizes on what the opponent does badly – so against a control deck, it goes fast and aggros things down, and against aggro, it controls the board. In both scenarios it threatens to blow everything up with Exdeath, who can basically win the game the moment he’s played onto the board with enough resources to threaten Grand Cross. Up until recently, this deck was more tuned to deal with my local meta, but the only major recent changes are the removal of 5 CP Estinien, removing 1 CP Ramuh & 3 CP Odin, all of whom underperformed at larger tournaments. Raiden also frequently comes in and out of this deck, but that mainly depends how butthurt I am over Ashe + Rasler on any given day. I also only run 6 EX bursts, as I don’t want to rely on EX bursts to win, and hardcasting 7 CP Odin is probably the most depressing feeling you can have as a Lightning player.
Variations of this deck have seen me to pretty good performances at most tournaments I’ve attended this year. Every time I’ve taken Mono Lightning to an event I’ve made top cut (and every time I’ve taken meme-y bullshit it’s gone not quite as well…). Unless the FF7 stuff turns out to be killer in Opus VIII, I’ll likely be on Mono Lightning for the forseeable future, although there’s not a huge amount I’m hype for in Opus VII for it at the moment (except Coeurl, he’s a cutie.)
The rules I set myself when playing this deck:
- If you can bait an early Al-Cid, just set up on backups until your opponent plays a forward. Dropping an early Hildibrand or Illua to force the opponent to play a forward to block them will help you start getting ahead early by playing Al-Cid on whatever they drop.
- Never not play backups unless it leaves you with an empty hand. Prioritize backups until you are at 3-4 backups, then go to 5 when excess CP allows.
- Don’t try to setup for Zemus – if it goes wrong you will lose. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Treat Zemus as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a wincon.
- Try to threaten Cyclops for as long as possible without actually playing it – leaving 3 backups up, or 1 backup up and a spare card in hand. Ideally you want to condition your opponent into playing around a Cyclops even if it’s not there.
- Maximise Value: Unless you have no other play, try to use Ramuh when it will affect two targets, and hold off Cyclops until it will kill 3+ targets (combined with Scholar/Ramuh/Rygdea/Al-Cid) or win you combat vs a major threat.
Let’s go over the card choices.
Rygdea – Rygdea’s been a mainstay of mono lightning since opus 2, and is more relevant now than ever. With things such as Thaumaturge, Viking and Leila everywhere, you’ll often score a kill with Rygdea, and get the dull on something else. Of course, you can play him off of Al-Cid for a 9k burn and a dull, which is what you’ll be doing most of the time. Also a cheap body to pick up off of Zemus if you have a couple of spare CP to burn from backups.
Estinien – If the term ‘surprisingly overperforming’ was made into a card, it would be this card. I wrote this off so hard when it released, but it’s done nothing except win me games since I put him in. He can’t be Al-Cid’d into play, but there’s nothing more I would love to see midgame once I’m setup on backups. He’s also a godly Zemus target, as he makes all of your pings from things like Scholar and Rygdea incentives not to block him, he’s just fantastic. 8k Haste First Strike under Lulu, you can’t really ask for more than that. Insane card, and I would fully recommend trying him over the 5 CP one, as your opponent will almost definitely under-estimate him, and he’s so easy to revive. Don’t discount this card. Give it a go.
Hildibrand – Hildibrand is another card that massively exceeded my initial expectations. Pick him every time someone tries to Famfrit. They just Shantotto‘d you and passed turn? Cool, play him again from hand and then swing as he is likely getting haste from Nashu. Swinging with Hildibrand with Nashu active is another incentive for your opponent not to block you. If someone does Exodus on you as well, you can safely pick 3 if it’ll wipe out their 3 costs as your Hildibrand will go back to your hand. He’s just great. His special is also excellent mid/lategame, as you should be on 4-5 backups by then, and Hildibrand’s special will either 1) get a forward into play which will likely have an entry effect or 2) reveal a backup which you won’t want at this point anyway. Good card. I’ve almost run three, but I find that once you have one, it’s likely you’re using the same one for the entire game. And playable off of Al-Cid! Hitting an Edea off of Hildibrand is the best feeling. Getting Hildibrand down as early as he is available is a good call, as he will dissuade your opponent going for early Famfrits.
Illua – Illua is totally insane, and does way too much for one card. She’s stupidly hard to get rid of for one card, and you can attack with her pretty safely to threaten her special, even if you’re just bluffing. Playable off of Al-Cid for some nice early game aggro. Drawing an Illua at any point of the game is always a good draw.
Onion Knight – He’s here for Al-Cid shenanigans and for playing after using Scholar’s effect. Not the most exciting card, but will put the work in.
Al-Cid – I think we all know why Al-Cid is in here. If you’re setting up Zemus plays, it’s good to keep at least 1 Al-Cid in the break zone, as reviving Al-Cid with Zemus’ effect, and then playing a 3 cost from your hand off that is insane value.
Amon – Amon’s another overperformer. I don’t feel like I need to play him every game, but when I do, he usually ends the game on the spot. A hasted Amon seals a lot of games, and you have quite a few ways of hasting him with Ramuh, Illua’s special and Red Mage. He’s pretty big too, he’s a good play to dissuade getting aggro’d down by random tiny dudes.
Zemus – If your opponent doesn’t deal with Zemus almost instantly, you will probably win the match. I’ve had a lot of matches where my turn has been to revive Edea with Zemus, break something, attack with my random other dudes, then chump block with Edea in opponent’s turn, then revive Edea again in my turn… Zemus is absolutely brutal when utilised correctly. Don’t treat him as your only wincon though, as you’ll throw away a lot of cards for possibly nothing. He’s the very definition of win-more, but will help you cement victory a lot early than you otherwise may be able to. Having Zemus out also improves your CP efficiency greatly, as because you’re playing the card from the break zone, you’re not ‘spending’ the card you are playing from your hand. For example, if we look at Illua as a 5 cost (3 CP + Illua), if we play her off of Zemus instead, she’s only 3 CP because you’ve lost 1 less card from your hand. This advantage can really accumulate if you get his effect off more than once.
Exdeath – Exdeath counters a couple of things that can be problematic for Lightning. He hurts stuff that requires a strong board setup to become unbeatable (Earth/Wind Dadaluma), and Water (Rasler + Ashe + Minwu = GG), or things that are untargetable (Gullwings, Zidane), and anything that is job-based (Gullwings, Warriors of Light). His auto-ability can wreck certain decks, he’s a big beating stick, and Grand Cross can decide games pretty quickly if you catch your opponent at a bad time with it. Previously this slot has been tried with a few other cards in place, I’d tried Vaan, Estinien, and Nidhogg, but I’ve settled on Exdeath for the time being, and he’s going great. You can pick up a spare Exdeath with Sage to make his special a bit easier to pull off, and if your opponent knows you have an Exdeath on field and in hand, you can hold the gamestate to ransom, and basically threaten “if you do anything I don’t like, I’m going to reset the game.” I was previously running 2 Nidhogg in this slot, which was awesome, yet horribly cloggy sometimes, and didn’t cover my Gullwings matchup. Exdeath will have you saying ‘before blockers’ quite a bit, as you declare an attack with Exdeath, resolve his auto ability, and pop the now 2k Yda with a Scholar. Or attack with Exdeath, use Ramuh to break Rikku and dull Paine. Alternatively, he opens up a lot of these things to main phase 2 Al-Cid plays. He’s big enough he can be a really threatening blocker, too.
Edea – Edea’s just nuts, and the reason why I play mono lightning rather than lightning + anything else. She’s the reason we want to get to 3 backups as early as possible, and then max out on backups soon after that. She’s very abuseable with Zemus, too. You can attack with Edea to bait blocks, which means you can revive her with Zemus for a kill on something, or your opponent might just let it through, it’s a win-win scenario.
Cyclops – Cyclops recently got re-added to the deck, because he’s good to field clear the immeasurable amount of weenies that people spam in the current meta, and he’ll help your less exciting units to win combat quite often. Hitting one of these an EX burst is a license to go open season with Ramuh, or Scholar, and you’ll often get some good breaks off of it. Use these very sparingly, you want your opponent to think that you have one in your hand most of the time. If you feel you lack spot removal, Odin EX works in this spot too, although can lead to some frustrating situations with bricked hands or stuff he can’t deal with.
Ramuh – Best card in lightning right now, in my opinion. I’ve not come across a situation where I haven’t been able to use at least one of the effects. He’s especially high value vs Dadaluma decks, and being able to break things like Gesper will help you stabilise vs Mono Ice too. If I could run 4 of these, I would. He also lets you clear out annoying stuff like Leyak, which vastly speeds the game up and saves you from having to kill the same Urianger 25 times.
Odin – These were previously a combination of 1 CP Ramuh and 3 CP Odin. They were testing very very well, however I completely forgot that Mono Earth 4 CP Potato spam was a thing, and so I’ve put these back in. You can also run Raiden in this spot if you feel you have the CP economy to do so. I’ve done it in the past, and it was great fun. These made the grade over 7 CP Odin, as I feel that the 7 CP Odin is completely dead in the Mono Earth matchup once Wol starts making the game fun for everyone.
Black Mage – Helps your rubbish stuff run over not-rubbish stuff. Most of the time just secures free damage. Might occasionally kill a Viking or a Leila. If it’s your turn 1 backup, don’t let the fact that you might not get use out of it’s effect stop you from putting it down.
Black Mage – A one of to deal with things that are awkward to deal with. Especially useful vs Dadaluma, or you can leave it active to threaten your opponent not to block your rubbish forward you’ve just swung into their bigger forward with.
Nashu – Probably favourite backup to get down turn 1. Turns Hildibrand into an incredibly dangerous card. General rule of thumb, if Hildibrand is active, make sure this is too.
Red Mage – Standard Mono Lightning stuff here, lets you do some double dulls with Amon and haste things that shouldn’t have haste to swing for damage the opponent may not be ready for.
Scholar – Combined with Illua’s special or Cyclops, this kills a good amount of things. You can use it in combination with Ramuh to get some great value off of it. Also good with Estinien, as even a 3k ping will help his First strike win combat.
Cid of Clan Gully – Searches Illua.
Gramis – Searches Al-Cid
Lulu – Always leave a backup slot for this. Most of your stuff is 6k, so it really needs the 1000 extra power. Having Lulu and Estinien out can be really hard for aggro decks to get through.
Sage – A one of, just to pick up missing combo bits for specials. Also plays into mindgames, as if your opponent sees you pick up an Illua from the break zone, and you have one in play, they’re likely not blocking anything anytime soon. Can also use this to set up Grand Cross. You can also pick up a Zemus if you’re in the lead and want to cement your position.
There are quite a few changes you can make to the deck while still keeping the core intact, the ‘flex slots’ are basically the 3 4 CP Odins, which you can change to whatever you’re comfortable with, and the 3 Exdeath, which you can change to whatever you’re happy with, also. Lightning doesn’t rely on its Big Bad Forwards quite as much as some other elements, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there. As I mentioned previously, I’ve run Nidhoggs in here, and they worked great, but I didn’t like the handclog considering how little draw power lightning currently has. Estinien’s good, but it feels like he doesn’t stick around for long before instantly exploding. Vaan is also a good pick as you can search him off of Gramis, but you’ll ideally want to haste him (he can’t be hasted off of Ramuh, unfortunately) and start getting value back on him as soon as possible. Also, being light, he can clog pretty spectacularly, and in this build of Mono Lightning I’d say you want to wring every last CP you can out of the deck to get the best plays possible. Lightning and her XIII support package was also strong, but suffers against swarm as you basically leave your opponent with a lot of dull forwards that turn around and smack you the turn after if you don’t get through for game. I was also halfway tempted to run Enuo in the Exdeath slots, as they’re surprisingly effective against Leila Vikings & Leyak Control decks, while still keeping a 9k body, but nothing solves bad matchups quite like Exdeath.
Can’t be broken? Takes 2k less damage? Minwu? Untargetable? 12k attack? To the void with you all!