In TCGs power creep is often the subject of criticism. It is the tendency to increase the strength of the elements of any given game over time. It’s a natural part of most modern games and each game has their own version. Here we will look at the pros and cons of in TCGs, specifically Final Fantasy TCG.
On the pro side it allows for developers to explore new design spaces. For example, some companies like Square Enix, that sell cards have to add power creep because if the new cards aren’t as strong as the old cards, then those cards likely won’t sell as well and they lose potential profits. Lastly, players want power creep because playing with new and stronger cards is simply fun.
The negatives can be daunting. If a player has to spend too much money on a new set to get all the cards they want to play, they just might not bother. If a player skips a year of playing a game only to find that the power creep is so strong that their entire collection is unplayable, then a player might not want to start buying back into the game. If players don’t want to play because of too much power creep that hurts the developers bottom line. Therefore, there must be a balance to how fast power creep develops. FFTCG is not exempt from power creep. In this article we’ll go into some examples of power creeping in Final Fantasy TCG.
Identifying Power Creep
My favorite example of power creep in FFTCG is the Opus XI Summons when compared to the Opus I Summons. For now, I only want to focus on Ifrit.
I love this example because it isn’t power creep. We can see bigger numbers and the same cost, so it would be easy to instantly call this power creep, but these cards weren’t strong enough when they came out and they definitely aren’t strong enough ten sets and 3 years later. The stronger Summons may not even be in line with the current power level of the game. At the 2019 National Championships there were 3 decks in the top 8 that were mono fire. All three were of an Ifrit archetype, with each deck using 12 Ifrits. Across the 36 Ifrits in the National Championship not a single one was the Opus I version. This Ifrit just didn’t make the cut. At the time (Opus 9.5, when Opus X starters were legal but the Opus X set was not) , those deck valued a high count of Ifrits and still the quality of Opus I Ifrit was not high enough even before Opus XI was released.
But, there is a good example of power creep with Ifrit in Opus X.
Opus X Ifrit does highlight power creep. Most cards with the name Ifrit deal damage and if they meet the right conditions deal damage above curve. Opus X Ifrit bucks this trend and simply deals damage above curve. There are no conditions to meet. For 3 CP you deal 8000 damage. All of this is factored in before considering he buffs fire forwards by granting an additional +2000 power, allowing for more interesting combat interactions. This Ifrit is unlike any other Ifrit before. The card’s only downside is it isn’t an EX Burst card. This is the card with which all fire summons must now compete. That is power creep.
Other Considerations: Amon to Meia
Amon was a prevalent card when Opus II came out and rightfully so. The stats are on curve and provide board control. In offensive strategies it can “turn off” a Blocker and allow for other Forwards to deal damage unblocked. In defensive strategies it can turn off an Attacker before it has a chance to attack. Amon is a good card but has fallen out of favor due to newer cards.
Enter Opus IX’s Meia. Long after Amon, Meia stepped up to take his place. Meia can dull a Forward every turn but, importantly, doesn’t dull herself. This allows her to deal damage in addition to controlling the board. While she lacks defensive options, it isn’t important to tempo lightning decks that value offense above all else. In the decks that had Amon on the list, defending was a losing option. In those cases having First Strike or Haste is often a better option, both of which are things that Meia can provide if dulling doesn’t help. More importantly Meia costs 1 CP less. This puts her leagues ahead of Amon. If Amon costs 1 less, Meia would still outclass him with her flexibility and versatility.
This isn’t an example of direct power creep because Amon wasn’t pushed out when Meia was printed. This comparison is the metric that we can use to see power creep. There are several other cards that provided better board control that fall between Meia and Amon, but none that were this similar. This is an indirect power creep. Essentially, when compared directly, Meia is much more powerful than Amon but when they were at their heyday they are relatively equal to each when compared to the power of the game. Therefore, it’s not the cards that are weak or strong, it’s the game that has changed in power around them.
Emperor Gestahl to Chaos
Here is a good example of healthy power creep. Emperor Gestahl and Chaos do almost the exact same things. Released two sets apart, they both fill a very interesting roles. For 5CP Emperor Gestahl can break any Forward and then on another turn you may play a Dark Forward from your hand for “free.” Chaos only costs 1, but if you pay the cost of a Forward in your Break Zone, you can play it to the field. On a following turn, Chaos can break himself to remove a character from the game for 3CP.
Both Emperor and Chaos act as removal and they both play a Forward to your side of the field.
While Emperor Gestahl costs 5 and Chaos only costs 1, the total costs are still similar. We can add the total costs and compare. To play Gestahl, you must pay 5CP up front. To use the second effect you pay 0, but he breaks himself. This is a grand total of 5CP. For Chaos the second effect costs 3CP and, again, a self break. The first effect is tricky. Chaos itself costs 1CP but we also add the cost of the card he summons because you have to pay that. Since the minimum cost of the Forward is 5CP and highest cost Forward in the game is 9CP the range of the entry is 6-10CP. The grand total is a whopping 9-13CP.
So, if we compare the costs of Gestahl (5CP) and Chaos (9-13CP) we get a clear winner. But that simply is not the case. The first effect isn’t mandatory even if you want to play a card from the Break Zone. The cost of entry isn’t 6-9CP, the cost can just be 1CP. Also, the removal effect of Chaos is more powerful. While Gestahl breaks his target, Chaos will remove it from the game. While Gestahl targets a Forward, Chaos targets a character. Chaos is far more flexible than Gestahl and can’t play Dark Forwards to the field with his effect. Gestahl can only play Dark Forwards to the field. Yet, you don’t want to play the Emperor when the opponent has no Forwards and you certainly almost never want to play Gestahl on turn 1. Chaos on the other hand is playable when there are no targets in the break zone and can be played on turn 1.
Chaos is stronger and more flexible but, overall, more expensive. Emperor Gestahl is weaker and clunkier, but cheaper.
But Cards Are More Than Numbers
Naturally, these comparisons are a bit superficial. The game is deeper than the numbers on the card and it would be irresponsible to ignore some other relevant factors. These factors are Category tags and Name clashing. Emperor Gestahl has the category tag of VI. Category VI is quite premium as it supports the category VI archetype (Locke 4-048L, Celes 8-037R, Setzer 4-036H), which has been historically strong. Chaos, on the other hand, clashes with another which enables the dark archetype. This means that Emperor will have positive synergy with certain decks, while Chaos will have negative synergy with other dark cards.
We don’t need to crank up the strengths of each card to make it good. We can tweak the dark synergies, we can add a popular category. We can shift the cost up and add flexibility. The depth of the game makes it hard to anticipate the strength of cards. Comparing two very similar cards can be difficult. We have to take into account the all the basic factors and then we have to consider things like the name and the category. At the same time this depth allows for these intricate cards to be printed. This depth also allows for slower power creep, which is the goal of a game that wants to have a longer life. I can’t express how much admiration I have for Hobby Japan and Square Enix. The depth and simplicity makes the game great for new and old players, of both fans of the video games and fans of card games.
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