Recently with the launch of Gold Saucer, we had the chance to interview Alex Hancox, Mr Cool, World Champion 2018!
[Potete trovare la versione in italiano qui]
Gold Saucer: Hi Alex, thanks for accepting this interview! It’s been a while since you won the worlds, so it’s not a fresh news, but it sounded proper to celebrate the launch of our new website with some question to the man on the top for the year!
During 2018, in various situation you voiced your ideas, concerns, hopes and feelings about decisions taken regarding the competitive environment and the tournament system. Summing the whole of the year and all the tournaments you attended, up to the Worlds you won, how would you evaluate your experience, and being a competitive player in FFTCG?
Alex Hancox: I remember when everything was first announced for Europe and there were some glaring issues regarding the competitive events. I made a big post with my thoughts, the community got behind it, and so did the staff. I think the structure we ended up with was great for the game’s second year, showed a lot of promise, and was reflected in the quality of all events that took place throughout the year. The experience was great, there were a good number of events that were all spread throughout the different Opus, and the community as always is spectacular!
GS: Recently, at the announcement of the Crystal Cup tournament structure, after what initially looked like widespread enthusiasm for the idea a lot of people arose against it, to the point of launching a petition against it. What is your opinion about using draft for the last 4 swiss rounds? Also, what do you think about the way people reacted?
AH: Regarding the community response, I was pleased that a number of people felt comfortable enough expressing themselves like that publicly. I have very little experience with draft and all of the technical stuff involved with making it possible for events like these, so I was and still am trying to remain optimistic. I’m looking forward to trying it, but I understand a lot of the concerns the community has. I think as long as feedback is presented constructively, like most of it has been, it’s very healthy.
GS: What do you expect from this years’ competitive season? What new evolutions do you see coming? Do you expect some specific player to rise and shine? Except you, of course 😀
AH: I never go in with any expectations, just hope that everything works out for the best. I don’t see any particular evolutions coming outside of the mixed format stuff with the draft. It’s actually very similar to last year, but most of the Worlds spots are open to literally anyone in Europe rather than being behind a qualification barrier. I don’t know how good this is competitive wise, but it should be better for the business to have more attendance overall. Specific players? My boy Robbie ‘Sazh’ Phillips has stepped up after spending the first couple of years never quite getting there. I think if he continues to find a deck he’s comfortable with and one that is top tier in each Opus he’ll be poised for continued success.
GS: After one year or so of meta heavily influenced by ice, we saw the first bans in the game. It’s pretty soon to discuss what the meta will be during this year’s competitive season, since one more Opus will be released even before it begins, but, do you think we will see more bans in the future? And, are there cards that in your opinion should receive the same treatment as Gesper and Thaumaturge received?
AH: Bans are a natural part of Card Games. While they had Chapters to figure out most of the kinks, stuff like Thaumaturge was a totally new card so it’s understandable that a couple of new cards will be a little too skewed in terms of strength or simplicity. I would prefer in future, especially in the case that an old card rises to prominence that is a few sets old, that we see more erratas rather than straight bans. Gesper had to go, I think, but Thaumaturge could have been turned into a unique name quite easily. I don’t think we’ll see many bans in the future though, just like with Chapters. The mechanics of the game inherently gate certain cards being overpowered unless there is a development oversight.
GS: Now that we know what in your opinion shouldn’t be in the game anymore, what do you think, on the other hand, the game needs, or could use to improve? Is there a specific new type of card (like equipments for example) which you particularly hope will be added to the game soon?
AH: I’d like a new card type for sure, but I don’t know how much of a big deal I’d want them to make out of it. Equipment could be cool, but I don’t expect to see it anytime soon. I’d be curious to see what they could do with ‘battlefield’ cards, like Pokemon Stadiums and Yugioh Field Spells. Cards that you’ll play to strengthen your deck, but might inadvertently strengthen your opponent’s deck in some way. As for what the game actually needs? It needs more interesting Fire cards. The element is too bland, with the general excuse being ‘Fire was too strong in Chapters’. Sure, tone it down, but don’t make it so boring that every card is ‘Deal X000 damage to X forwards your opponent controls’.
GS: As part of the Worlds’ prize, you got to choose the next full-art promo, and you decided to share the endeavor with the whole community, picking cards step by step out of a list until you ended choosing Bartz. Can you do a brief recap of the process, and what led you to choose that card specifically?
AH: I chose something like 17 cards that I thought had qualities worthy of being a full art promo, from art and playability, to simply my overall liking of the characters depicted. Over the course of about 8 days I cut that list down to 3 by cutting 1 or 2 cards at a time, with the final two being the main protagonist and antagonist of FFV – Bartz and Exdeath. I chose Bartz because my main deciding factor was to pick a card that had already stood the test of time (Bartz was released in Opus 1), and one that I expected to continue to be relevant hopefully forever (Bartz is a Mono Wind staple, as well as seeing play in other Wind-focused decks). Lastly I wanted it to be a ‘boss’ forward, one that represents the element well, with a good ability and strong stats.
GS: What do you think of the Title Series format? Does it have space in the competitive environment in your opinion? And what’s your favourite Title Series deck?
AH: Like Draft, I have very little Title experience. I like it, and I like how the game can blend both Standard Constructed and Title into each Opus while making cards relevant for both formats. As for competitive, I’d need to play it more. People tell me the power level of certain cards/categories is too skewed, and it’s harder to beat the best Title setups than Standard ones. I really don’t know, but I’d be curious to see it at a bigger event, just not one with qualifications tied to it right now. My favourite Titles would be FFV and FFXII, the former due to cool things like Gilgamesh spam, and Bartz R + Bartz L from Opus 3, and FFXII because it’s my favourite game and also very competitive in Title Series.
GS: We all know about your personal affection towards Exdeath, but some who started following your podcasts just recently, or that can’t because of the language barrier, could wonder where does it come from. Why do you favour Exdeath above all other Final Fantasy villains? And, on the other hand, why did you pick the Crystal Tower as the name for your own podcast?
AH: To me, the Exdeath I am known for (2-101H) was never meant to be a good card. It, and the Manikins in general, were always meant to be a fun little gimmick that was never meant to win a trophy. The Manikin Ice/Lightning deck that did me so well in 2017 was unique, and it went through various changes and evolutions throughout the year. To put so much time and effort into something and do so well with it is a prize in itself. That card has honestly done a lot for me that maybe I wouldn’t have done otherwise, and certainly not with as much style. I also just favour the FF villains in general, as they tend to always be very deep and emotionally driven characters (ironically, Exdeath probably doesn’t fit this description, as all he cares about is the Void, lol).
The Crystal Tower really hasn’t got much of a story behind it. Back when we started, Joe, Ban, and I needed a name for our project, so we were spitballing FF-themed ideas. The Crystal Tower sounded all majestic and mighty, so I figured that was appropriate with what we were trying to do with the podcast.
GS: Final Fantasy TCG has a very different, unique community compared to other games. The competitive environment is not “competitive” in the bad sense as it is in other games, and people from all over the world manage to bond thanks to the game in a way that I’m not afraid to say unique for a TCG; attending to big events is not only a way to play but and especially a way to meet faraway friends. Still, sometimes new players are afraid of the game since they see the majority of the players playing competitively, and they don’t feel to be up to par. What would you suggest to new players who want to adventure in the competitive environment?
AH: My stance has always been to not throw yourself in at the deep end. Start small with your local scene, get to know the people there and befriend them. Learn from them, grow as a player, and don’t think too much about being competitive until you really feel like you’ve learnt enough. By all means travel and hang with your friends, but don’t go in trying to win unless you’ve really put the effort in. It’s not just about hours of practice, but simple things like knowing what all the cards do, rulings, being able to recount your deck at all times, and most importantly stay cool under pressure and not lose your focus after a loss. Some stuff may seem small, but everything contributes, so why would you not want to give yourself every possible edge if you want to win?
GS: Ritual question: what is your favourite Final Fantasy game, and why?
AH: My favourite game is Final Fantasy 12. I loved the transition from having the screen shift between the world and battles in previous games, like 10, to no transition at all. When you see an enemy, you walk up to it and fight it, which creates a lot more immersion for me. I also like the Shakespearean themes, Balthier as a character in particular, and the political drama surrounding the main plot. Vayne’s also a great but underrated villain. I don’t think there’s anything in that game that doesn’t work for me, and have played it through multiple times.
Bonus question from MrCool(!): To anyone reading this, what card would you choose as a full art promo and why? Completely forget how good it is in a tournament, just say what card you look at and think ‘I’d really like my name on that’.
GS: Thanks for accepting this interview, good luck for the next competitive season, and hope you come back to play in Italy soon!